Member Spotlight - Alex Todd

June 10, 2024

This week's member spotlight is on Alex Todd. Alex is the Executive Director of the Prospect Heights Public Library District. He currently serves as a director-at-large on the ILA Executive Board and is a member of the Finance Committee. He previously served on the Advocacy, Fundraising, Intellectual Freedom, and Public Policy Committees. 

We asked Alex to answer a few professional and amusing questions. Continue reading to find out more about Alex.

A little background on Alex:

I followed in my father’s footsteps when I became a librarian.  It wasn’t the career I envisioned for myself when I was a kid, but it is the career I found and the career I love.  

I worked at the Fountaindale Public Library District and then the Sycamore Public Library before finding my home in Prospect Heights. I’ve been at the Prospect Heights Public Library District since 2000, first as the Head of Adult Services and since 2012 as Executive Director.  

In 2019, Jim Deiters and I formed Deiters & Todd Library Consulting where we help library boards conduct executive searches for their next director. We also host workshops on library finance, new trustee orientation, and how to have more efficient (i.e. shorter) board meetings. 

How did you get your start in libraries?

Well, when I was a kid, I’d get into libraries by finding a first-floor window that had a loose sash. I’d push it open juuuust enough to squeeze in.  As I grew up and got too big for windows, I started using doors. Rooftops have always appealed to me though. Y’know, Mission Impossible style? …a man can dream.

Best advice you've received since starting your career in libraries?

When I was earning my MLS at UIUC (best library school in the country!), Curt McKay, the assistant dean gave me the best career advice I’ve ever heard. I share it liberally with others:

If you want the job, apply for the job. Even if you don’t meet all (most) of the requirements. If you don’t apply, the answer is always ‘No’. Instead, apply and in your cover letter, address the requirements you lack and emphasize unique qualities you are bringing to the table. If it’s practical, state what you would do to gain the required skills.  

For example:

“While I don’t have 3 years of supervisory experience, I’ve been president of my condominium board association for the past five years.”

“While I don’t have an MLS, I will commit to earning one within 4 years.”

Any advice to newcomers working in libraries? 

Join things! Volunteer to serve on committees! It doesn’t matter if the committees are within your library; a regional group; RAILS or IHLS; ILA; or ALA/PLA.  

Joining brings other librarians into your network and gives you insight into how other libraries operate. You might bring some of those ideas back to make your library better and your ideas might help make other libraries better.  

And if you go through the trouble of joining, take the extra step and be the Chair (or treasurer, secretary or other leader).  That can seem intimidating, but being a leader gives you more insight and influence on the work being done. Plus, it looks great on a resume!   

When and why did you become a member of ILA?

I’m fortunate that I’ve worked for libraries that supported membership in professional organizations such as ILA so while I don’t know when I joined, it was a long time ago. At first all I wanted from my membership was a conference discount and the ILA Reporter. It wasn’t until a few years later that I got more involved and submitted program proposals for the Annual Conference and volunteered to serve on forums and committees. 

How has being a member of ILA helped you professionally? 

I’ve met so many of my dearest friends through ILA. Wait, that’s not professional.  

ILA helps me stay current on issues that impact Illinois libraries whether its legislative issues in Springfield or Washington D.C.

I’ve become a better librarian as a result of ILA. I’ve learned about the tremendous challenges libraries of all sizes and budgets and types and locations face and remarkable achievements they achieve after overcoming those challenges and making their patrons and communities better as a result.  

I can’t count the number of ideas, programs, services, things that I’ve learned from/through ILA that have made my libraries better. 

What is your proudest professional achievement to date?

I’m proud of how I led the Prospect Heights Public Library District through a $5.1 million renovation that came in on time and under budget.  

I’m prouder still that that the renovation happened during the worst of the pandemic shutdowns but we still maintained service – curbside pickups, Facebook live programming, etc.

I’m proudest yet in the fact that throughout the renovation, pandemic, and to date, we have not had a single case of staff-to-staff transmitted COVID.

Hardcover, paperback, e-reader, audiobook, or all?

I’ve got a long commute, so I’m audio all the way. Plus I like how the narrator can really make or break a book.  

Favorite authors?

Charles Todd of course!

Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume, Harry Turtledove, Bernard Cornwell, Barbara Tuchman, Mark Twain, Stephen Hawking, Stephen King, Stephen Coonts, Stephen Ambrose (that’s all the “Stephen’s” – I refuse to be ‘highly effective’), W.E.B Griffin, Margaret Atwood, Frank Miller, Shel Silverstein, Agatha Christie, Gary Larson, Bill Watterson, Studs Terkel, Francine Pascal (and friends). 

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what five books would you bring with you to pass the time until being rescued?

  • How to Build a Wooden Boat by David C. McIntosh
  • The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour 
  • Living Alone & Liking It! by Lynn Shahan
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (it’s long and I’ve never read it)
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (another long one, BUT – I’d be happily re-reading it!)

Cat or Dog?

A couple of Chicago style dogs at a ball game followed by an evening drinking cheshire cats with friends sounds like a day well spent.

Favorite film, podcast, or television show? 

  • Film – Say Anything “I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”
  • Podcast – 99% Invisible – I can’t believe Roman Mars is not a stage name.
  • TV show – M*A*S*H – (seasons 1-7 – until Radar leaves).  

One person you would like to meet, dead or alive why?

I’d love to meet my grandpa. I mean, I met him when I was a kid, but he died when I was young and so I never had a chance to ask him questions. I want to hear his stories about his time in the circus; about surviving the 1918 Hammond, IN train wreck near Hammond, IN. I want to learn about his mandolin – which is my mandolin now. Where did he buy it and why did he keep it for so long? Why did he learn to play? Could he still play? Would he teach me his favorite song?

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