March 2023 | Volume XLI, Issue 1 »

Getting to Know Monica Harris, the New Executive Director of the Reaching Across Illinois Library System

March 8, 2023
Illinois Library Association

After a nationwide search, the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) Board appointed Monica Harris as the system’s new Executive Director on February 7. We recently sat down with Monica to find out more about her and her goals for RAILS.

ILA: Congratulations on your appointment as RAILS Executive Director, Monica! For those who don’t know you, could you tell us just a little about your library background?

MH: Thank you so much, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to continue my work with RAILS in this new role. I’ve been working in libraries for 20 years, starting out in youth services in small public libraries in Michigan before moving to Illinois in 2007. Since then, I’ve worked as a teen librarian, circulation manager, and assistant director in public libraries in the Chicagoland area. Immediately before coming to RAILS, I was the Executive Director of the Schaumburg Township District Library. I’ve also taught as an adjunct lecturer for San Jose State University’s iSchool, teaching a course in library innovation in a multitype environment. I’ve been very active in state and national organizations including the American Library Association (ALA), where I am currently serving as a Councilor at Large; Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE); Illinois Library Association (ILA), where I co-chaired the Annual Conference Committee in 2014; Public Library Association (PLA); and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). After joining RAILS as Associate Executive Director in January 2020, I provided leadership for several RAILS departments, including Delivery, Continuing Education and Consulting, and Library Programs. I also led the development of the 2022-2025 RAILS Strategic Plan.

ILA: What do you consider to be some of your immediate priorities in your new role?

MH: I feel very fortunate to be coming on at a time when our foundation at RAILS is solid and the path ahead is clear. I was deeply involved with the 2021 strategic planning process, where members from all types of libraries provided feedback on what they liked about RAILS, as well as new priorities and aspirations for the future. Our new strategic plan was approved in January 2022, and I have the tremendous opportunity to continue the great work RAILS has done thus far and to build on that work using the strategic plan feedback as a guide.

My top priority is to continue to build relationships and foster strong communication with our members and statewide partners. There have been many changes in leadership throughout the state recently, and by working together, we can achieve the ambitious goals we have set for Illinois. I want to meet with members directly and hear what is important to them. Most importantly, I want to sustain the vibrancy and success of RAILS while continuing to lead the system into the future and to provide the innovative and essential services libraries have come to rely on.

ILA: What is your vision for RAILS moving forward, and what are some of your long-term goals?

MH: Our continuing priority at RAILS is to ensure sustainable, equitable resource sharing between libraries of all types and sizes, and there are many ways we do that every day. We know how important our delivery program is to our any members and their communities, and we will continue to look for ways to make that service as efficient as possible while continuing to provide excellent service. We will continue to grow existing programs like Find More Illinois, eRead Illinois, and Explore More Illinois and to find ways to meet the needs of the statewide users of those programs in an equitable way. We will also continue to focus on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility as we plan leadership initiatives, continuing education, and other programs, and we will provide support for our members to help them develop their own initiatives. Our members have made it clear that this is a priority for them, and we believe it is a path all libraries must follow to provide the best service to every member of their individual communities. Last but not least, we will continue to advocate for a statewide electronic resources program that would benefit libraries who can’t afford these resources at all, as well as those who would see that money better spent on much needed staffing and other programs and services.

Long term, I want RAILS to continue to be an organization that libraries continue to look to for inspiration and leadership. We want to continue to strengthen collaborative relationships and to find ways to speak effectively on behalf of all system members. We have unique opportunities to monitor larger patterns and trends in Illinois libraries, and we have a responsibility to report on those findings in ways that can help all members to understand clear steps they can take to improve services and connect with and learn from one another.

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