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Meet Your Candidates: Jennifer Rice Epstein, River Forest Public Library Board

Fiction writer outlines her qualifications for a spot on library board.

Jennifer Rice Epstein, 33, is aiming for a spot on the River Forest Public Library Board of Trustees, the seven-member group responsible for shaping the library's fiscal and operating policies. 

Members of the library board serve six-year terms. This year, three seats are up for election. Four candidates — Epstein, ,  and — are vying for spots on the board.

On her Twitter page, Rice Epstein calls herself a "full-time baby-raiser and part-time writer of fiction." This is her first candidacy for public office. 

Patch: How would you assess the state of the library’s budget?

Jennifer Rice Epstein: River Forest has been very lucky in that we have been spared many of the cuts other agencies, especially at the county and state levels, have had to face. The library offers a range of exciting programming and acquires new materials at a steady rate, and I would say we are quite healthy financially.

If expenses need to be reduced, exactly what would you cut? Please be specific.

I don't think cuts should be in our library's near future.

If more revenue needs to be raised, exactly what would you propose? Please be specific.

While we can always use more revenue, I do not think now is a good time to further burden the River Forest taxpayers. 

The library seems to have robust offerings of eBooks, audiobooks, etc. Are you aware of any other developing technologies that patrons can use? 

Our library has done an extraordinary job of moving forward with the times; it currently checks out Kindles and has some online sources that can be accessed from home, such as language programs.

I think the focus now should be on increasing communication between library staff and the public at large. There has been movement in this direction, with Text a Librarian, a Twitter feed, and the library blog. I would like to see this trend continue, forming a more dynamic online relationship between the library staff and our readers.

How would you rate the WiFi connection at the Main Branch?

I have used the library's WiFi system a number of times and have never had any trouble with it. I would rate it well.

What are you currently reading?

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's a notoriously long book, and my goal is to finish before his posthumous novel, The Pale King, is published on April 15.

Is the library adequately reaching out to diverse populations, i.e., people with primary languages other than English, people with visual difficulties, others?

This is a good question. Our population here in River Forest is getting more diverse, as the 2010 census figures show. As a library patron, I honestly have not taken much notice of this, although I have noticed and been pleased by the multicultural literature available in the Children's room.

As a trustee, serving our changing population would be a pressing need. 

Does the library get adequate feedback from patrons? If not, how would you increase the flow of communication? Please be specific.

The library is making strides in increasing communication, but I do think there is more work to be done. I address this issue somewhat in question four, but I would reiterate here that, especially for our teen and young adult population, having an online presence is not enough.

The library's personality should show through in all of its dealings with the public; people must feel that there are people behind the institution. Every exchange of communication will only strengthen our patrons' relationship to the library.   

Please assess the Lathrop Avenue facility. Does it need improving?

I recently met with Sophia Anastos, our library's director, and she advised me about some water damage and other structural issues with the building. Our current library board has ensured that these damages can afford to be repaired, and I agree with them that this is an issue of critical importance.

What else would you like voters to know about your positions on issues, point of view or qualifications?

I am a fiction writer and avid reader who has worked in literature-related careers for my entire career, whether for libraries, the New York Review of Books, or as a freelance book reviewer. I earned a bachelor's degree in English (UCLA) an have my MFA in fiction writing (University of Arizona).

I can often be found in the library on Saturday mornings working on my novel near the fireplace while my husband corrals our toddler and 3-month-old baby at Donuts for Dads.

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