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Meet David J. Seleb of Oak Park Public Library

Today we’d like to introduce you to David J. Seleb.

Thanks for sharing your story with us David. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
As an undergraduate student in the late 1980’s, I was sure I knew exactly what I would do with my life. I was majoring in English with a minor concentration in secondary education, and I thought I would be a high school English teacher. Well, my student teaching experience at the end of my senior year of college did not go as well as I thought it would and I began seriously to reevaluate. One of the only other things I had considered was work in public libraries. In fact, I had worked in a public library in my hometown of Blue Island all through college. As I was preparing to graduate, a full-time job at the Blue Island Public Library became available. The new director of that library agreed to give the job to me if I would begin immediately to work toward my Master’s Degree in Library Science. I did, and I have spent the past nearly thirty years as a librarian and library administrator in suburban Chicago. I have been thankful for that opportunity every day of my life. My chosen profession has been wonderful to me.

Has it been a smooth road?
My career has presented challenges, but I have never regretted my decision to move into work as a public librarian and library director. Work in the public service sector is not easy, but when you are committed to that service and love it, the rewards make up for whatever difficulties you may encounter along the way. Public sector salaries, for instance, are certainly not what they are in the private sector, and that is one of the challenges you must accept as you decide what your path should be. People’s expectations regarding service are very high, as they should be, and that is something else one must understand and appreciate.

And, I would say a challenge today that I did not much experience thirty years ago is the degree to which citizens question the value of their public institutions and public goods, such as the library. Public schools, parks, libraries… I think we are all experiencing this more and more. Consequently, we are working harder than ever to demonstrate and communicate that value.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Oak Park Public Library – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The Oak Park Public Library, where I have been the Executive Director for the past five years, is recognized for its high level of service, its exceptionally talented and creative staff, and its innovative spirit. Our vision is to empower the voices of our community and our mission is to share the information, services, and opportunities that fulfill Oak Park’s aspirations. We do this through our commitment to the strategic priorities of engagement, learning, and stewardship.

Some of the most recent work of which I am most proud are our efforts to eliminate barriers to service and to achieve greater equity for our patrons and our staff. We have a full time social worker at the Oak Park Library, one of only a handful who work for public libraries in the United States. He and his team have elevated our community engagement in ways that have attracted national attention.

Seventy percent of Oak Park’s 52,000 residents have library cards, and the library circulates over 1.2 million items each year. Thousands of people a year attend our programs and special events. The people of Oak Park love their library!

The library’s permanent art collection is incredible. Before the present main library building was constructed and opened in 2003, a committee of library staff members and citizens developed a plan for an art collection that would demonstrate a commitment to the value of public art and to the support of rising artists, particularly artists of color. I think most of those citizens did not realize at the time just how famous some of those artists would become, such as Kehinde Wiley. The Oak Park Library owns a Wiley, displayed on the main library’s third floor, entitled Easter Realness #2 (see attached photo).

I am also proud of my service on the Board of Directors of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park. Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park in 1899 and lived in Oak Park until he graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. Our Foundation owns and maintains Hemingway’s birthplace home in Oak Park as a museum and event space (see photos). The library preserves an extensive collection of photos, documents, and artifacts from the early life of Ernest Hemingway in our Archives and Special Collections rooms. These are curated by a full-time Special Collections Manager and a full-time Archivist.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the physical beauty of our city. Chicago is gorgeous! I love the strength of the people of Chicago. I love the food!

I very much dislike our city’s inequities, its violence, its racism…and its unwillingness to face the unpleasant and difficult parts of its history that created this environment. As part of our commitment to achieve greater equity and to talk about that history, the Oak Park Library selected Chicago native Kevin Coval’s recent collection of poetry entitled A People’s History of Chicago for our One Book, One Oak Park summer event. Kevin visited the library over the summer to talk about his poetry, poetry that reveals the racism of Chicago’s history, and to tell the story of those people of Chicago who have been oppressed because of it. I highly recommend it.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Tina Harle Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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