The race for Lemont Library Board has drawn significant interest as eight candidates battle for four seats.
The race features four incumbents, including board president Vytenis Kirvelaitis, and four write-in candidates whose names were knocked off the ballot after Kirvelaitis successfully objected to their nomination petitions.
Incumbents Catherine Sanders, Tom Burton and Tom Culcasi are also in the race.
Kirvelaitis said he has three primary goals for the board: fiscal growth, relevance and fostering learning. Kirvelaitis, an attorney and certified public accountant, said the fiscal strength of the library already has grown as its credit rating recently increased.
He added that he is a firm believer in the “virtual library” concept, which allows patrons to access articles, books and databases online 24/7. He said this and enhancing the recently remodeled spaces are important and could create a more collaborative effort between the library and community.
“Public libraries need to continually reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant,” Kirvelaitis said. “This not only helps students and active adults who need information, but also those with health or mobility issues limiting their ability to physically visit our building.”
Sanders, an incumbent, serves as chairman of the library’s planning and goals committee. She hopes to keep the library’s resources up to date and relevant to patrons. The board’s ability to serve patrons of all ages is another priority.
Being an attorney and a teacher, Sanders said she can offer the board a unique perspective. This coupled with her six years of experience on the board help her see the library as a place that can foster people’s educations.
Sanders added that the board has the ability to be professional even in light of disagreements and that compromise is never off the table. One thing she would like to do differently is add an honorary teen board member who could serve a one-year, voluntary term, she said.
Incumbent Tom Burton said his focus is on the future needs of the community with an emphasis on the children and senior programs the library provides. Burton said while books should always be available, he believes the future of libraries is in making them digital resource centers.
“I am most passionate about the children’s and senior programs,” Burton said. “Children are not only the future of our community, but also the future leaders of our country. Providing our children with the tools to build a sturdy intellectual foundation gives them the opportunity to be successful later in life.”
Burton said he believes the senior population is the reason the community is healthy. He said he hopes to continue the library’s many well-attended programs while maintaining the limited budget and continuing to provide fiscal transparency.
Culcasi, an incumbent, has lived in Lemont for 42 years and has served on the library board since 2015. In his 43 years with the St. Alphonsus Parish, he has served as the president of both the school board and the parish council.
Culcasi said he’s proud to be a member of the library board and is happy with what the board has achieved since his appointment.
“People moving into Lemont are looking for a good school system and a strong library,” Culcasi said. “I’m proud to say we have both. We were able to remodel our library on time and on budget as we promised the voters.”
Reflecting on the board’s other achievements, Culcasi said the library renovated the children’s department and expanded meeting room space. He also said he worked with Citgo to secure a grant to develop the library’s teen STEM program, the library’s largest grant to date.
Write-in candidate Patricia Doornbos was born and raised in Lemont and taught at Lemont High School for 37 years. As a lifelong resident of Lemont, she has an understanding of the community that would aid the board in meeting the needs of the public, she said.
She said many residents have lost confidence in the board’s decisions and believes her perspective could help the board re-establish a positive relationship with the community.
At first, Doornbos said, her intention was only to support her daughter, Melissa Fischer, in her bid to join the board. However, after discovering how much difficulty the write-in candidates had getting onto the ballot, she decided to throw her hat in the ring.
Doornbos said she has the ability to see both sides of an issue and has experience in bringing together people with different perspectives. She said that while the fact the current board has worked together for a long time could be seen as a point of strength, she wants to ensure the board doesn’t become complacent and always fairly represents the people it serves.
Renee Miller Pravdik
Write-in candidate Renee Miller Pravdik said her experience as a manager and a mother of two would bring a unique and helpful perspective to the library board.
Pradvik listed enhancing the library’s website to make it more user-friendly as one of her goals. She said she also would like to place further emphasis on children’s programming.
“I would like to see the current children’s programs expand and add more events for future readers,” Pradvik said. “As a mom of two 4-year-olds, I feel I can bring a fresh perspective on what children are looking for.”
Write-in candidate Michael Dunkin said his experience as an elder with the Immanuel Lutheran Church and his work as a STEM mentor for Cub Scouts has given him an enriching perspective on how to best ensure the library board is addressing the needs of all patrons. Among his goals are placing an emphasis on the desires of taxpayers, an area he feels the board has neglected in the past.
“I plan to restore trust in this library by ensuring that it’s a board that listens to taxpayers,” Dunkin said. “The current board of trustees broke faith with taxpayers when they ignored hundreds of public comments urging them to reconsider their decision to fire our beloved children’s librarian and when they denied voters a choice at the ballot by hiring a lawyer to kick all new candidates off the ballot.”
He also cites the implementation of sensible employment policies, addressing accessibility concerns and emphasis on technology as areas he plans to devote attention to if elected.
Write-in candidate Melissa Fischer said she believes her eight years of experience working in marketing roles for the Downers Grove Public Library would benefit the Lemont Library Board. Citing the library’s recent renovation, addition of new programs and increase in community partnerships, Fischer said she wants to maintain the momentum the board has built.
“The board should encourage the continuation of these enhancements to improve our users’ experiences,” Fischer said. “Competition for libraries [such as] Amazon, Netflix, Audible, etc., should be at the forefront of our minds when developing public library services.”
Acknowledging the distrust the public feels toward the current library board and administration, Fischer said she wants the library’s patrons to feel as though their feedback is valued and hopes to share in working with library staff to execute the community’s suggestions.