DOWNERS GROVE - Librarian Karen Bonarek knows the importance the Downers Grove Public Library has within the community.
For Bonarek, a library should engage with residents to discuss important diverse topics, which is why the library is hosting a series of events highlighting African American culture.
Throughout September and October, the library is hosting events titled “Community Conversations” as a way to hear about issues community members care about.
The events include two listening sessions, an exhibit of work done by African American children’s authors and illustrators, a discussion from author and Freedom Rider Thomas Armstrong and an event highlighting African American poetry.
Bonarek, who is also the library’s program coordinator, said the library wanted to host a series of listening sessions to offer residents a chance to tell the library how they can include diversity, equity and inclusion in its next strategic plan.
“Funnily enough, planning for the events actually started about a year and a half ago,” Bonarek said. “The library has a strategic plan that it updates every four to five years. When we do the programming, we also look to the strategic plan for the goals for the library.”
Library Director Julie Milavec said one of the goals for the library’s strategic plan is to encourage civic engagement, which is the point of the listening sessions.
“We look at our community conversations as ways to really bring out what is important to our community with what their needs are, to bring attention to issues and to allow people to talk about current issues,” Milavec said.
Bonarek said she wanted to plan events for 2020 that celebrated an anniversary of an important event in history. She chose the Harlem Renaissance to highlight Black authors.
The Harlem Renaissance began around 1920 and was considered the golden age in African American culture in terms of literature, music, art and performing.
One of the events, “Lift Every Voice: Why African-American Poetry Matters,” which will held at 2 p.m. Oct. 18 online will be led by CM Burroughs, a poet and Columbia University professor. Burroughs will read and discuss poems from the book “African-American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song.”
The library was awarded a grant from the Library of America in March to celebrate African American poetry, and the grant fit perfectly with what the library had planned for this fall, Bonarek said.
“In September, I had this whole sort of serendipity thing happening here,” Bonarek said. “We were able to get the grant, and I built programming out and around the exhibit with the community conversations and African American poetry, both of which touched on the same themes.”
Milavec said the library is committed to inclusivity.
“Our library's purpose statement is that we are a place for everyone to discover, grow, play and learn,” Milavec said. “When we say everyone, that's everyone in the community and whoever walks through our doors, is our patron.”
Milavec said the events are especially timely for the community following a summer of Black Lives Matter protests and discussions centered on racial inequalities. She said the library has hosted diverse events highlighting different cultures in the past and will continue to do so.
“Public libraries, by definition, provide access to information to everyone in the community, and Downers Grove, like every other community, has community members that are Black, indigenous and people of color, and so we want to reflect the diversity of our community,” Milavec said.