Jean Bednar: 2023 candidate for Gail Borden Public Library District board
Age on Election Day: 62
Occupation: Educational Foundation coordinator
Employer: School District U-46
Previous offices held: Gail Borden Public Library District board since 2005
Q: Why are you running for the library board, whether for reelection or election the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?
A: There is never just one particular issue that motivates me to seek reelection to the library board. My reason is that we have an outstanding, award-winning, wildly popular library that continues to provide a wide variety of service to the district patrons, and I am proud to serve and would like to continue to serve our library district as a trustee.
Q: Has your library seen a significant shift in the use of online materials? Has it adequately bolstered and promoted its online collection?
A: The shift from print to electronic/online material has been taking place over the past two decades, so it has been gradual and steady. Through the library website, newsletter, and programming, the availability of online materials is well publicized to the district.
This was especially apparent during COVID shutdowns, of course, when there was a huge bump in virtual programming -- the statistics showed this. The staff is all about statistics, and they can use the data to track usage and illustrate trends in borrowing, for example. Data reports are shared with the board so we can follow what's happening year-to-year with both virtual and in-person library use, and we can see that they work hard to keep the collections and the programming vital and relevant.
Q: What do you see as the future of role of libraries in the electronic age? How well prepared is your library for meeting that role? What new steps must the library begin taking?
A: The electronic age for libraries has been a topic since I first ran for the board nearly 20 years ago, so I have watched the library adapt its collection as well as its building space to accommodate new platforms in anticipation of changing times. Our library began way back increasing its collection of audiobooks and adding audiobook listening devices. Then they increased shelf space for audiovisual material, added online borrowing services for e-books, and online streaming services.
We also began lending devices like Rokus and hot spots; we have tweaked computer center space in the building in response to patron use. As new needs come up, ideas are shared with the board on how space in the library might shift or be remodeled to accommodate a design change that could not have been imagined when our "new" library was built, 20 years ago. I'm confident that the library has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to the electronic age.
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: I am an incumbent and have been on the library board for 18 years, during which the library has had more successes than can be listed here. I don't take the credit for these, although board leadership plays a part. Two of my favorite library success stories happened when I simply served as the "conduit" for a new idea. 1) Someone called me to point out that our school district didn't hold a science fair, so maybe the library should. Gail Borden did sponsor that science fair for several years, and it was so popular it eventually outgrew our library. 2) I got a call from a person who asked if we would consider a site at McLean and Spring Streets in South Elgin for another library branch building. So that happened. It's now been five years since that branch opened and we are planning to expand it this year. I was only the conduit, but was able to put those ideas in motion for a positive impact on the library district.
Q: Do you have a library card? How long have you had it? How often do you use it?
A: I have a library card. I got it shortly after I moved to Elgin in 1988. I use it pretty regularly to borrow lots of things like audio and e-books, and paintings that hang in my house, and recently I borrowed a knife sharpener from the library of things.
Q: Describe your experience working in a group setting to determine policy. What is your style in such a setting to reach agreement? Explain how you think that will be effective in producing effective actions and decisions of your library board.
A: It's important to let the members of the group all have a chance to speak their mind since everyone's opinions and comments matter and should be heard. Over the many years I have lead the board, I have enjoyed times when we had healthy agreement on most topics, and other times when I had to act as referee during discussions. To me, the most important rule is to be respectful, and maintain calm within the group, even when we are disagreeing. I think it's easier for a group to be effective under a calm, polite leader. Luckily for me, during my time on the board there has always been a majority of savvy, rational, passionate trustees who discuss and pass good policy.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A: I have served the library district as a trustee for nearly two decades. During that time, the district has added two branches, a Bookmobile, a sprinter van -- even a book bike. These decisions alone demonstrate the vision for outreach and extended service that is at the heart of our district.
Over the years that I've come to know the staff and its strategy for service, I've seen their innovation in nearly every department, and Gail Borden Public Library gained a reputation as one of the most exceptional and extraordinary libraries, not only in the state but in the entire country. Over the past 18 years, we've won local, regional, state, and national awards, including the National Medal, the highest award bestowed on a library. During this extraordinary time, I have served -- discussing, discerning, voting, and for the past several years, leading the board in the behind-the-scene decision making that has made GBPL one of the favorite libraries around. I'd like the chance to continue serving.