John Leroy Hilbert

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John Leroy Hilbert, 55, of Norman died January 7, 2019. He was born January 21, 1963 in Meadville, Pennsylvania and moved to Norman in 1964. He attended University School and Norman public schools, and graduated from OU with a Bachelors in Fine Arts specializing in photography, film and video. While working at the OU Political Commercial Archive he learned about the opportunities for librarians and earned his Masters Degree in Library Sciences in 2001.

John served as the Young Adult / Teen Services Librarian at Southern Oaks Public Library in Oklahoma City and was devoted to his career. He embraced the philosophy of free speech and libraries serving communities, working to support teen volunteers to ensure they obtained valuable experience, had fun and developed relationships. He served as a role model and provided excellent service to library patrons. John promoted and led after-school programming that strengthened student and parent engagement and provided literacy skills and support for children and young adults.

John was crucial in building relationships with local schools by visiting middle and high school students to promote the library, give instructions on databases and technology for students and teachers, and recruit new volunteers for the numerous programs he organized. John spearheaded Homework Help at Southern Oaks Library almost 10 years ago; every Thursday, children from local elementary, middle, and high schools received tutoring from library volunteers. This initiative led to summer 'Reading Buddies' where teen volunteers served as reading tutors to children weekly.

For 17 years, John hosted 'Talk Like A Pirate Day' with an accompanying scavenger hunt he created each year. Fan Fiction, Fan Art provided artists and writers opportunities to connect and share in a yearly independently judged contest. For 18 years, John organized the Teen Advisory Board at Southern Oaks Library and allowed his volunteers to lead various projects such as "Arghzine," 'Squirrel Appreciation Day," "Anti-Valentine's Day," and puppet show programming. Other innovative programming included a DIY Studio after school every Friday for children and teens to create unique crafts. He was involved with Southern Oak's Annual Holiday Shopper serving more than 120 children every December who pick 2 gifts for family members with the help of volunteers and library staff.

John was influential in providing spaces for young people to think critically, dialogue around social justice issues, and propel positive change in their communities. He served as a mentor to teen volunteers and library patrons. He brought in local artists and presenters to bring meaningful experiences and education. John was essential in the creation of Making Herstory in 2013, a project created by a volunteer who created a local, grassroots community organization that for 3 years hosted weekly workshops at Southern Oaks Library, reaching more than 60 southside Oklahoma City high school students through workshops on feminism, ethnic studies, and personal narratives as a form of social, political, and self empowerment. John recognized the need for public libraries to organize in the community and ensure prosperity and equality of all people.


In the Fall 2014, John was pivotal in organizing the OKC Southside Initiative, a partnership between the University of Oklahoma Graduate School of Social Work and Southern Oaks Library. In the Summer 2015, the OKC Southside Initiative hosted the Southern Oaks Block Party which brought out 600 residents for a day of fun, school supplies, and other needed resources. For the last 5 years, the OKC Southside Initiative has continued to build a pathway for social work interns from the University of Oklahoma to assist in the direct needs of community members who visit Southern Oaks Library. John's community collaborations and institutional partnerships served the needs of community members, enhanced the overall well being of southside Oklahoma City, and will continue on because of his advocacy efforts to support young people and children in the Southern Oaks Library community.


John is survived by wife Jane Garner and cat Chrissie; father Richard Hilbert and wife Lois; brother Tom and daughter Myles of Fort Collins, Co; brother Ross and wife Marion and their sons James and Doug. Many other special friends and colleagues survive him, including Lena Khader and Savannah Mitchell. He was preceded in death by his brother James and mother Shirley Hilbert Price.

A celebration of John's life is Sunday, January 27th 2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. at the Depot in Norman. Friends and colleagues are invited to share stories about John.
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Published on January 18, 2019
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