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Coming Together in Skokie

Skokie Public Library
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Innovation Leader: Carolyn Anthony, Director, Skokie Public Library, canthony@skokielibrary.info

Problem Statement

With a population of approximately 65,000 and close to 100 different languages spoken, Skokie is one of the most diverse towns in Illinois. More than 40% of the population is foreign born and immigrants continue to settle in Skokie, most recently coming from Iraq and Pakistan. People of various ethnic origins do not segregate by neighborhood, but intermingle throughout the Village. Given these conditions, is it possible to promote understanding among people of such different backgrounds and even to build a community?

Innovation

The Director of the Skokie Public Library, Superintendent of high school District 219, the Mayor’s wife, the President of the Indian Community of Niles Township and the Manager of a local hotel developed Coming Together in Skokie to enable residents to explore in depth a different culture each year through reading and discussing a common book, and through participation in a variety of other programs. Our program launched in late January, 2010 with a focus on the Asian Indian community. In addition to the institutions mentioned, Oakton Community College and Skokie Hospital joined in the program. We read the novel Motherland and brought author Vineeta Vijayaraghavan to speak at the Library, both high schools and at OCC. More than 3000 people attended 32 events held over a period of 6 weeks. In 2011, we have turned our attention to the Filipinos, welcoming Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and reading her novel about the Filipinos’ experience of WWII When the Rainbow Goddess Wept. This year we also chose a novel for middle school students and two picture books for younger children.

Progress

Over 3200 people attended at least one of 36 events this winter, half of which were book discussions or author visits. Press coverage was terrific, not only in the local media, but in both Filipino and Indian metropolitan media outlets. Cecilia Brainard was impressed with the program, so much so that, after returning home to California after three days of presenting to and speaking with participants throughout the Skokie community, she sent the Skokie Public Library more than 100 books by Filipino and Filipino-American authors, some of which were signed first editions. Being an editor as well as an author, she has extensive connections in the Filipino literary community. The Skokie Park District joined the list of cooperating agencies this year as did the English Language Learners Parent Center, a joint project of the schools in Niles Township. A 22 page booklet with a welcome letter from the Mayor includes historical information about the Philippines, questions for discussion of the books, information about Philippine traditions, some Filipino phrases, a list of notable Filipinos and Filipino-Americans and suggested readings, as well as information about events, encouraging the learning to continue.