LIS Trends

Libraries That Engage The Community

with 5 comments

As the relevance of libraries in a digital age continues to be questioned by a public that sees them as no more than a depository of books, there are some public libraries that are finding unique and innovative ways to keep themselves engaged in their communities.

One such library that is taking a different approach to bringing their communities together is the Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, IL. The program known as the “Idea Box,” is an interactive space located at the library’s main entrance that features a variety of ongoing exhibits that range from art-focused activities to technology and science-related exhibits. For example, one past exhibit, titled “Leaving Czechoslovakia,” featured Czech art, video and live traditional music. Though the exhibit was not promoted, it still generated a lot of interest for both library visitors and people passing by. What differentiates the Idea Box from being a simple gallery is that everything in it has to be interactive and engage the entire community, not just a particular age group or demographic. As stated in the article, “Live Art & Community Participation in the Oak Park Library Idea Box,” Monica Harris, Customer Service Manager who manages the Idea Box says about the program:  “You’ve got small kids in here, you’ve got senior citizens in here, you’ve got teenagers in here, and everybody is kind of doing their own thing and looking at each other’s work…Everyone can really approach this on their own level and make it work for them(“Library As Incubator Project”).”

Is this the future of library programming? How could more libraries follow the Oak Park Public Library’s example in creating a space for interactive exhibits that engage the community to participate in? Though not all libraries have the space for something as expansive as the Idea Box, Harris did note that programs like these don’t need to be in a large, glass-enclosed room; even something as small as a small art exhibit in the corner or giving patrons a chance to interact with a working artist/performer could work(“Library As Incubator Project”). What matters is that libraries find exciting, unique and participatory ways of getting the community to come together, and it will be interesting to see how programs like the Idea Box could influence other libraries to develop similar projects to engage themselves with their communities.


“Live Art & Community Participation in the Oak Park Public Library Idea Box.” The Library As Incubator Project. (25 Jun. 2012). Web. Last Accessed 10 Oct. 2012. <>.


Written by JenniferMillen

October 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. Where other libraries have dedicated space to creative computer labs, the Oak Park Public Library has created a space for creativity in a more tangible form. In many ways this is akin to the artsy version of a creative computer lab. It’s really nice because it’s a gathering space for people to create and commune as well as observe, admire, learn, and hopefully be inspired.

    The creation aspect is the part that makes this art gallery unique. I’ve been to many libraries that feature art work, (Schaumburg Library is an incredible one), however, none of them allowed people to actually go in and create their art there. Their exhibit in June encourages people to go inside and literally leave their mark by drawing their own stars on the walls so in essence it’s like an open invitiation library program that is always running.


    October 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm

  2. I think four things really stand out to me about why this project is so successful. The first is that it’s at the main entrance of the library — everybody who comes into the library is going to know about it so it essentially markets itself before patrons can even grab a brochure to know about it. The second is that it’s broadly targeted — it’s not an adult, teen, or children’s program. It’s everybody’s program. It’s not so regimented and controlled. The third is that it’s very interactive, encourages the community to create, and the exhibits change enough to remain interesting to different kinds of people. The fourth is that it really is open to everyone. No politics, no “let me see your library card,” no registering for a date and time in the future that you can’t adjust to your schedule, and no waiting list to see if people don’t show up so you can participate. This is an almost perfect example of the kinds of things I expect to increasingly see in libraries that are gaining space by removing books for digital replacements.

    Isidoro Alastra

    November 15, 2012 at 10:19 pm

  3. I have seen this in action. The library where I grew up always had a corner in the lobby for local residents to display something. Many children or adults would display their collections or memorabilia. After visiting the University of Hawaii at Manoa library, they also have spaces for art or collections to be displayed. Two specifically that I saw was on Canoe Paddling and Indonesian clothing. I think its a great way for libraries to engage patrons in other ways besides programs and books.


    November 17, 2012 at 12:41 am

  4. It seems right that this happened in Oak Park — a hub of innovation for more than a century! I think libraries can help assure their future by positioning themselves as centers of creative thinking.


    November 17, 2012 at 11:44 pm

  5. Sounds like a fantastic program, so much more effective in engaging people than static display cases. I think it would be more challenging to try to always have programming that appeals to every demographic, but worth it! I agree with Isidoro, it really helps that it’s right by the entrance – the main branch of our public library here in Winnipeg has a small art gallery, up on the back of the second floor…I’m sure some people have no idea it exists.


    November 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm

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