*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I graduated from Georgetown University and from the University of Chicago Law School. After clerking on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, I worked as an estate planning attorney for ten years at the Chicago law firm of Hopkins & Sutter. After I stopped practicing law, I became a stay-at-home mom and started volunteering at my children’s schools and at church. My family and I moved to River Forest about 20 years ago. My children, now 30 and 27, attended both parochial and public schools and are graduates of OPRF High School.
I served for six years on the board of Pilgrim Nursery School (two as co-chair) and dealt with issues similar to those addressed by the Library Board: personnel issues, maintenance of an older building, budgeting and fundraising, parking problems, and working with governmental agencies. I volunteered in a number of capacities at Grace Lutheran School and at Roosevelt Middle School, including library volunteer, reading parent, Girl Scout leader, and fundraiser. I also have served on a number of committees at Grace Lutheran Church and dealt with issues such as the rehab of portions of the building, stewardship and fundraising; and school funding matters.
I am running for the River Forest Library Board because I believe in and want to support its missions. Libraries work hand-in-hand with our schools to educate and socialize our children, and they provide adult residents with information and resources that enhance the quality of their lives. I have been a frequent user of the library over the last two decades and appreciate the high caliber of its staff and the breadth of its resources. Last summer, I started attending meetings of the Library Board. The Board works with the Director to develop policy, maintain the building, and prepare budgets. Its members also guide the work of the River Forest Public Library Foundation. My training as a lawyer and my community involvement over the past 30 years provide me with the skills and experiences that can support the work of the Library Board.
How can the library improve upon virtual services?
The pandemic accelerated the library’s adoption of online services, both in terms of quantity and type. Pre-pandemic, the library offered virtual services such as eBooks and eAudiobooks for download as well as access to magazines online. In 2020, the library added over 1,000 digital titles to its collection. It also added the Kanopy streaming service, allowing patrons to pick from a broad selection of movies that can be watched from home on demand.
During 2020 the library also increased its own online programming. Families with young children can watch live story times presented by the staff on YouTube. The library also runs hundreds of its programs online via Zoom, including crafts, STEM challenges, book groups, and trivia. In addition to serving an educational function, these virtual programs provide much needed social contacts for children and adults. The Library Director wants to continue and build on these online opportunities that were created in response to the pandemic. I fully support these new initiatives.
The library also has improved the way its patrons access online content. Library patrons have several ways to experience eBooks, depending on the device they are using and which app they find easiest to use. The library is moving its online magazine collections from Flipster to Libby, a more user friendly portal. Staff members are also available to troubleshoot if patrons have technical problems accessing content. The library staff has demonstrated that it can adapt its online services as devices change and new apps are developed.
The library recognizes that not all patrons are equally situated to take advantage of its online offerings. Some patrons do not have the tech hardware or Wi-Fi needed to access eBooks or participate in programs over Zoom. To address this issue, the library loans out tech, including mobile hotspots and eReaders. The library can adjust its purchases of this tech as it sees how heavily these mobile devices are used.
As a trustee, how do you intend to minimize the tax levy increase for residents during this period of economic hardship and uncertainty?
River Forest residents are well aware of the high property tax burden property owners and renters bear. Members of the Board know that they need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars while also maintaining the level of library services residents expect. After attending meetings of the Board and some of its committees, I find the current Board and library staff to be effectively using taxpayer dollars to deliver high quality library services. The Board and staff also are seeking to reduce the pressure on taxpayers by increasing the use of non-tax dollars through grants from the public and private sectors.
In 2020, the library asked for and received from the village an increase in its levy equal to the 2.3% increase in the Consumer Price Index. The library will use some of these additional funds to provide partial cost of living increases to its staff, whose salaries and benefits are two-thirds of the budget. The library also must properly maintain its aging building; in 2021, the library needs to replace its air handler, which is going to be an outsized capital expense relative to the size of the library’s budget.
The Board recognizes that one way to minimize the tax burden on residents is to build up non-tax sources of revenue, including via grants from the River Forest Public Library Foundation. The Foundation is a wonderful non-tax resource that can increase financial and public support for the library. In recent years, the Foundation has been increasing its visibility, donor base, and contributions. It has funded renovations to the Children’s Room and maintenance of the library’s garden, expenses that otherwise would have been borne by tax dollars. The Foundation also recently authorized a grant to provide substantial assistance to fund the air handler project. My experience in fundraising and stewardship for several non-profit organizations will be useful in supporting the expansion of the Foundation.
What areas of library operations do you believe need to be bigger priorities for the library board?
The Board could make developing and maintaining community partnerships higher priorities. While there is a River Forest Collaboration Committee that brings together representatives from the different village taxing bodies, I understand that this committee is only engaged when it identifies a particular issue on which to collaborate. In lieu of a more active Collaboration Committee, members of the Library Board can work to develop those community partnerships. Individual Board members could be designated as the contact person for each of these other organizations, touch base with them regularly, attend their meetings from time to time or review the minutes of their meetings. Board members then would have existing lines of communication with these other organizations to make interactions more comfortable when the library needs to engage with them, and such contacts may help the library discover ways to work with these other bodies to more effectively deliver its services to residents.
What innovations brought on during the pandemic ought to be continued going forward?
As I mentioned above, the library has increased its online content available to patrons and added new online services, such as live YouTube story time. Post-pandemic, the library will continue to add to the books and audiobooks it offers online. This was the trend pre-pandemic, and the shutdown accelerated it.
The library offers hundreds of programs a year in its facility. During the pandemic, the staff showed great flexibility and innovation in moving those programs to Zoom. Once the library is able to host programs on site again, it might consider continuing some programs online. The library has limited space for programming, and its meeting room is historically oversubscribed. Continuing to offer some programs online would allow the library to free up its meeting space for those programs and events that can be held only in person. Online programming may also allow the library to reach residents who otherwise might not be able to make it to the library.
During the pandemic, the library expanded its partnership with the River Forest Township, which assisted the library in getting materials to patrons who otherwise could not come to the library and who do not use online services. Post-pandemic, the library should evaluate whether these enhanced partnerships enabled it to reach underserved populations and, therefore, should be continued.
The Library Board, like most groups, has been conducting its meetings over Zoom during the pandemic. The Board should consider permanently allowing public attendance at its meetings via Zoom to encourage community engagement.
What experience and qualifications do you possess that will help the library overcome obstacles and limitations?
My background as a lawyer will be relevant in dealing with legal issues facing the Board, such as the application of statutes to its work. Further, from my time attending meetings of the Library Board and of the Facilities Committee, I have seen that the Board spends a significant amount of time addressing the upkeep of the building. In my volunteer work for other community organizations, I have had experience with maintaining and rehabbing those organizations’ buildings.
As I previously noted, the Library Foundation, whose work is guided by Board members, has sought to grow its donor base and assets in support of the library. My prior volunteer experience would be helpful in supporting the Foundation as it seeks to grow. I have organized fundraisers for my children’s schools and for my church, and served on my church’s stewardship committee for several years. I have learned that to grow an organization such as the Foundation, one cannot simply ask people for money; people need to engage with the Foundation’s mission. People’s dollars follow their hearts.
With regard to my volunteer experiences more generally, I have served on a number of boards and committees, both as a member and as co-chair. Through those experiences, I have learned that the best model for governing is a collaborative one. To be productive, a Library Trustee must work respectfully with the other members of the Board and with the Director. The most effective policies will be those developed with input from all members of the Board, the library staff, its users (both frequent and infrequent), and taxpayers. Absent such input, new policies may not be accepted and may have unintended and unfortunate consequences.
6. What infrastructure or remodeling issues remain to be resolved at the library?
The most significant infrastructure issue facing the Board is the replacement of the air handler. The air handler, which circulates the air in the library and which takes up an entire room on the first floor of the building, needs to be replaced. The Board would like to relocate the new air handler outside the building to recapture precious indoor space. Since the Park District owns the land under and adjacent to the library, the Board is negotiating with the Park District to secure its approval for this move. I favor this change as it is a rare opportunity for the library to increase its useable space without a costly addition to the building. The library’s meeting and program space was oversubscribed pre-pandemic and will be again when normalcy returns. The demand for additional space is there. The library can use money from its capital budget and a grant from the Foundation to pay for the replacement and move of the air handler. The buildout of the new space can take place over time as funds are identified for that project.
A related infrastructure issue facing the Board is the installation of a redundant source of heat. The library has been advised to install a back-up heat source to avoid the situation the library faced several years ago when its heating system was knocked out during severe weather. The addition of a redundant heat source can be dealt with most efficiently as part of the air handler project. If the air handler is placed outside, the redundant heat source can be put in the same enclosure as the air handler.
Looking further ahead, the library will need to replace its skylight in 2023; this project is estimated to cost $45,000. During that same time frame, the library will need to replace its phone system and server.