Emma Kaden: 2021 candidate for Arlington Heights Library Trustee
Three candidates for two 6-year terms
Hometown: Arlington Heights
Employer: The Heartland Institute
Civic involvement: Served on the Teen Advisory Board, Arlington Heights Memorial Library; Volunteered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository; delivered puzzles and treat bags to seniors living alone during the pandemic.
Q. Why are you running for the library board? Is there a particular issue that motivates you, and if so, what is it?
A. I am a lifelong user of the Arlington Heights library -- I have attended programs, interacted with staff, and used the library's resources since I was little. I consider the library my second home. It would be an honor to serve on the board, shape how the library is run, ensure that everyone in Arlington Heights enjoys the opportunities I did, and more. Increasing transparency between the library board and the community is my priority. For example, a controversial program was canceled after threats were allegedly made against the library. Shortly thereafter, the executive director was replaced by someone with no library management experience or a degree in library science after a "nationwide search." Not only was there a lack of transparency about the canceled program, there was no explanation for why the new director was selected. When the board considered opening a North branch, then decided against it, the community should have been told why. Communication is essential to building trust between the board and the community. Almost no discussion happens in board meetings. Everything seems to be pre-decided. Finally, agenda items need to be more specific than "items of interest to the library board."
Q. Did your library continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to continue providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. The library's response to the pandemic has been mixed. The library closed for three whole months. No services were provided and no materials were circulated. The Arlington Heights library was one of the last in the Midwest to offer curbside pickup. Now, the library is open 16 fewer hours each week than pre-pandemic. Many people in the community are unable to access virtual programming. Not everyone has high-speed internet or a device to access online resources. Arlington Heights is a diverse community, and library resources should not be limited to those affluent enough and technologically savvy enough to access them. The library has more than 2,500 square feet of unused space on the first floor, the large Hendrickson Room on the second floor, and access to parks and outdoor spaces. Despite plenty of opportunities to hold socially-distanced, small-group programs, the library has only hosted two outdoor, in-person events since the start of the pandemic. One great service has been the bookmobile. Even when the library is closed, the bookmobile staff has implemented safety protocols to circulate materials across Arlington Heights, allowing everyone in the community to access books, movies, and games.
Q. Has your library seen a significant shift in the use of online materials? Has it adequately bolstered and promoted its online collection?
A. Yes, the library has seen a shift in the use of online materials. In fact, the library prioritizes virtual materials over physical materials, even though not everyone can or wishes to access their library materials virtually. Many people don't have access to e-readers or tablets, and some don't want to read a book on their phone. Others don't have access to a reliable internet connection at home, and when the library is closed, they cannot download e-books or stream audiobooks and movies. Some people prefer to read e-books and some prefer to read print books, so the library should have robust collections of both. Yet, the library has increased its online collection for the past several years, and the collection of print materials is shrinking -- even though the empty space in the library is growing.
Q. If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of important initiatives you've led. If you are a non-incumbent, tell us what contributions you would make. A
A. As a person who grew up in the library, from storytime to the Teen Advisory Board, I am keenly aware of the gap in services for young people who age out of youth programming but don't fit into services for older adults. This is an important demographic to cover, since many college-age adults are staying at home in Arlington Heights due to the pandemic. I have a unique perspective on the needs of younger adult residents and the resources the library could provide to this demographic. The library has the power to provide a strong foundation for people starting out their adult life, getting their first full-time jobs, and setting off on their path to success. Additionally, while more than half of school-aged children in Arlington Heights attend District 25 schools, there are many students in Districts 21, 23, 59, and others who have missed out on opportunities from the library. For example, students from District 25 have their art and gifted projects featured in library exhibits, but students from other districts miss this chance. Also, storytime in the park is offered eight times each summer, but never in parks outside District 25.
Q. Do you have a library card? How long have you had it? How often do you use it?
A. I have had a library card all my life, and I use it constantly. Engaging with the library, through books, movies, programming, and more, has always been part of my life. Many others in the community feel the same way. The library has a vast variety of programming, catering to diverse needs and interests. Library programs taught me to code, paint, make bread and movies, play the ukulele, and I have learned about different cultures and experiences. In the past, the library worked with local businesses to create programming, and I believe the library should do more to highlight businesses in Arlington Heights, such as hosting a business expo and letting local businesses host programming highlighting their services. The library is a beacon of knowledge and growth, and we should be appealing to all areas of our diverse community and encouraging everyone to make the most of the library.
Q. What other issues need to be addressed?
A. The big change coming to the Arlington Heights Library is the off-site Makerspace. The library board has been less-than transparent about the project. There will be a twelve-seat commercial kitchen to house library cooking programs, which have been popular in the past and which have been held before now in the Hendrickson Room, with a capacity of hundreds. Also, the same makerspace building will house dozens of 3D printers, as well as sewing machines, computers, and meeting space, all with only six parking spaces at that location, which is problematic. Retention of staff is another priority of mine. Our library has a very high turnover. Many tech help staff have left and the person responsible for starting and building the Hub for teens went to another library. Quality employees are our second most important asset after materials, and it seems to me we are wasting resources training staff and not doing more to retain them. The makerspace staff will be entirely part-time, and I want to make sure retaining them is a priority, especially because of the specialized training they will need.