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RAILS Unveils Strategic Plan

Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White (center) presents a ceremonial check to R.A.I.L.S. Executive Director Dee Brennan (left) and R.A.I.L.S. Board President Kathy Parker at the I.L.A.'s 2013 conference.
Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White (center) presents a ceremonial check to R.A.I.L.S. Executive Director Dee Brennan (left) and R.A.I.L.S. Board President Kathy Parker at the I.L.A.'s 2013 conference.
Illinois Library Association

The Reaching Across Illinois Library System (R.A.I.L.S.) is implementing a new strategic plan and is reintroducing valuable services to the more than 1,300 member libraries that make up R.A.I.L.S. In 2013, R.A.I.L.S. began reaching out to member libraries of all types, including academic (university and college) libraries, public libraries, (primary and secondary) school libraries, and special libraries (corporate, law, medical, museum, non-profit, etc.) as part of its strategic planning process.

Members were asked to provide feedback via a series of focus groups, a member-wide survey, and other avenues. The resulting strategic plan was shaped in large part by this feedback from members.

“We are thrilled with the feedback we received from libraries of all types and sizes throughout our strategic planning process. We wanted to learn what services are most useful to our members so we could realign RAILS to better serve their needs,” said Executive Director Deirdre (“Dee”) Brennan. “The input we received provides a great ‘blueprint’ for moving RAILS into the future.”

The R.A.I.L.S. strategic plan includes an increased emphasis on encouraging libraries to share library materials as freely and widely as possible and making it easier for them to do so. For example, R.A.I.L.S. is working on a multi-year project to provide library customers with seamless access to four R.A.I.L.S. union online catalogs, the catalogs of other R.A.I.L.S. consortia, and the catalogs of standalone libraries that choose to participate.

R.A.I.L.S. further stated the strategic plan includes “Development and implementation of a strong continuing education program that meets the needs of all types and sizes of member libraries and a consulting program that leverages partnerships and expertise to directly benefit libraries and their users.” It also includes “Fostering member engagement among all types of RAILS libraries. This includes building a strong networking infrastructure across the 27,000 square mile RAILS service area to create a community of connected peers and build on the strengths of libraries and library partnerships to help libraries innovate.”

Regarding the benefits of resource-sharing and consortial membership, Ms. Brennan stated, "I am a very passionate proponent of resource sharing and believe that consortia membership is the best way to share resources. I am proud that Illinois libraries have been a model for this kind of resource sharing for almost 50 years. Surely, the value of library consortia and resource sharing has stood the test of time in Illinois and I hope to see more of it."

Ms. Brennan added, "The main purpose of our library systems is to enhance resource sharing in Illinois. That is clearly stated in the Library System Act and it is certainly a personal passion of mine. I look forward to any enhancements that we can bring to resource sharing and the ability of Illinois residents and taxpayers to access the resources in Illinois libraries. We will continue to seek ways of bringing greater cooperation to and among Illinois library consortia so that we can make progress to an ideal future - whatever that may hold for us."

The complete strategic plan, as well as the results of all of the preliminary research that went into the plan can be found on the R.A.I.L.S. Web site. R.A.I.L.S. formed in 2011 with the merger of five Illinois Regional Library Systems: Metropolitan Library System (M.L.S.), DuPage Library System (D.L.S.), North Suburban Library System (N.S.L.S.), Alliance Library System (A.L.S.), and the Prairie Area Library System (P.A.L.S.).

The M.L.S. supported all types of libraries (academic, public, school, and special libraries) in Chicago, parts of suburban Cook County, and parts of DuPage County and Will County. The D.L.S. supported 132 libraries in 383 facilities in parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, and Will Counties.

The N.S.L.S. supported 650 libraries in the suburbs and exurbs of northern Cook County, all of Lake County, northeast Kane County, and parts of southeastern McHenry County. The P.A.L.S. supported libraries in twenty-seven counties in northern Illinois and eastern Iowa.

The A.L.S. supported 255 libraries in Central Illinois. R.A.I.L.S. is one of two multi-type library systems in Illinois. It supports libraries in Chicago outside the Chicago Public Library System, and libraries of all types outside the city across Northern Illinois and Central Illinois.

The other four regional library systems in Central and Southern Illinois – the Lewis & Clark, Lincoln Trail, Rolling Prairie, and Shawnee Library Systems – merged into the Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS). R.A.I.L.S. began with a very basic service model. Since that time, R.A.I.L.S. has built a healthy financial reserve, has benefitted by economies of scale, and recently started introducing new services to meet its members’ changing needs.

The Illinois Regional Library Systems were founded under the authority of the Illinois Library System Act (1965). This law was passed in accordance with a white paper written by Robert H. Rohlf, who took a leave of absence from his position as director of the Dakota-Scott Regional Library System in Minnesota to conduct his study of Illinois libraries. The Illinois Library Association (I.L.A.) published his proposal in 1963 under the title A Plan for the Public Library Development in Illinois.

R.A.I.L.S. provides continuing education and consulting services, a variety of online forums and resources for libraries, e-book services, delivery service, online union catalogs, talking book services, and more. R.A.I.L.S. supports more than 1,300 academic, public, school, and special library members in northern and western Illinois.

In a statement on the R.A.I.L.S. Web site, Ms. Brennan explained the Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author project began as a partnership between the I.L.A. Marketing Committee and R.A.I.L.S.

Members of the ILA Marketing Committee - Denise Raleigh, Donna Fletcher, Chris Cigler, Sue Wilsey, Nikki Zimmerman, Julie Stam, Liz Clemmons and Anita Quinlan - were inspired by David Vinjamuri's presentation at ALA Annual in Chicago last year. His message: libraries have power with publishers and they should use it. He also stresses the untapped potential of self published [sic] books. See his recent article at

Soon To Be Famous (STBF) is a great marketing tool for libraries and a great advocacy tool. We are experts at connecting readers and authors and we need to make this point to publishers. We also spend a lot of money buying books (and other items) from publishers. Despite these indisputable facts, publishers often view libraries as 'lost sales' because they don't understand that library users buy more books than non users (another indisputable fact).

I hope you will support STBF by promoting the winning author, Joanne Zienty, as well as the runners up Rick Polad and Mary Hutchings Reed. Visit the STBF website at to find out how you can make her book a bestseller and show the power of Illinois libraries!

On Tuesday, July 23, 2014, Ms. Brennan posted on the R.A.I.L.S. Web site the text of a letter she gave R.A.I.L.S. Board members regarding proposed rules changes for the Illinois Regional Library Systems.

The Illinois State Library is releasing proposed rules changes to the Illinois Library System Act. There will be a process for public comment and review before this is taken to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR).

This is a major undertaking and the changes proposed by the ISL are sweeping.

My major concern is that the new rules would be very limiting. The system core services cited by the ISL in the new rules are administration, resource sharing, bibliographic access, delivery, interlibrary loan and reciprocal access, and other “which may be designated by the State Librarian.” (See pages 11-17 of the draft).

I think it is unfortunate that continuing education and consulting are not part of core services. As I said in my letter to Anne [Craig, Director of the Illinois State Library] in May, I think systems should be encouraged to innovate and these new rules may discourage that. Also, I am sorry to see the elimination of the requirement for a long range plan, which I think is critical to the success of any organization.

Also, the current rules have a major focus on member input which I think is lacking in the proposed new rules.

The comment period on the ISL site will end on August 18. The Illinois State Library Advisory Council (ISLAC) will review the proposed changes in September.

We will be alerting our members to these proposed rules changes and encouraging them to comment.

Regarding the changing role of libraries in civil society, Ms. Brennan stated, "Libraries are more important than ever, and their importance and relevance will continue to grow. People look to them for traditional services such as books and programs, but they are also maker spaces, participatory spaces, publishers, community economic engines - the list goes on and on. Most importantly, they build and sustain communities.”

Ms. Brennan added, “Librarians are great sharers of resources whether it's materials or expertise. Other governmental entities could take lessons from us in how to make a dollar go far and provide efficient services and transparent governance."

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