Oak Park Library, located at 9500 Bluejacket St. in Overland Park, has been a cherished neighborhood branch since 1970. It has a cheerful, family-friendly atmosphere that’s popular with patrons who walk or drive in from nearby residential areas. But the building needs updating, which is due to happen later this year.
The branch will close for up to 16 weeks between August and December, to allow for bathroom renovations, heating-and-cooling upgrades, entrance and paving enhancements and improvements to make the building more accessible for people with mobility challenges. The main information desk will also be repositioned to be more visible from the front entrance.
Branch Manager Jared Harper said those renovations will help ensure a bright future for this wonderful branch. “What distinguishes Oak Park now is it is an older Library that has charm to it,” Harper said. “It is a branch that is really well loved in the community.”
Harper said many parents fondly recall visiting the branch as children and now enjoy bringing their own children there. One added amenity is its location adjacent to Overland Park community garden plots. Oak Park was built during a time of great population growth and new residential development in Johnson County. Voters approved a $1.5 million bond issue in 1967 to expand Antioch and Corinth and to build two new branches: Cedar Roe and Oak Park (originally called the Southwest Library and then renamed for the adjacent Oak Park neighborhood).
Oak Park opened Nov. 3, 1970 and held an open house dedication in February 1971. It expanded in 1982.
After Central Resource Library opened in the mid-1990s on 87th Street, just two miles north of Oak Park, Library leaders briefly considered closing the Oak Park branch in 1999. But countless patrons sent postcards, pleading to keep it open. They praised the convenient location, the collection, the friendly staff and the vibrant atmosphere. Oak Park stayed open.
“It’s such a fixture in the community,” Harper observed.
Oak Park is in the middle of the pack as far as busyness, but it has the largest circulation of any Johnson County branch without an automated sorter. In 2018, it recorded more than 197,000 visits and circulated more than 291,000 materials.
In the early 2000s, Oak Park was known as the hub for Latino services, including English Language Learner classes and other programs. Then-branch manager Maggie Vallazza was passionate about reaching out to the Latino community, as were Spanish-speaking staffers Christine Peterson, German Perilla and others.
In 2015, Harper explains, Spanish services were expanded throughout the system. Vallazza has retired and Peterson is now based out of Central, concentrating on youth Latino services. But Perilla continues to serve Spanish speakers who visit the branch, which retains the largest Spanish-language collection in the Johnson County Library system.
Now, Oak Park is known for serving young families, with a large and diverse children’s collection, heavily-used computer stations and a popular Holds service.
Last year, the branch shut down for about a week to remodel the circulation area for better work-flow and to update the staff break room. This year’s improvements will require a prolonged closure but are timed to come after the busy summer rush. Harper said patrons can visit Central Resource Library during that time. More changes are expected in 2024, when the branch is due to get new shelving and some new furniture.
“Getting new shelving next year would just really brighten up the space,” Harper said.