October 2017 | Volume XXXV. Issue 5 »

You Are Not Alone: Directors University (DU) Opens Its Doors

September 29, 2017
Joe Filapek, Courtney Young, and Sheryl Siebert

The first Directors University was held June 5–8 2017, in Springfield. Fifty-nine public library directors from across the state convened at the Illinois State Library to participate in this new training initiative modeled on the successful Statewide Public Library Management Institute (SPLMI). A member of the planning team, one of the attendees, and a presenter describe the experience in the brief entries below.


With an influx of new public library directors in Illinois, the need for an intensive training program has frequently been expressed. Focusing on some of the most pressing demands facing a director—budgeting, HR/legal issues, facility management, and board/trustee relations—a variety of speakers from within libraries, outside organizations, and individual consultants contributed to the sessions offered each day.
While the focus of Directors University was on director education, networking was an equally important byproduct of the week’s activities. The refrain, “You are not alone,” reverberated throughout the week and was strengthened during lunch, dinner, and evening networking opportunities. As one director summed up during the evaluation, “I am often uncomfortable in networking situations, and this format pushed me out of my comfort zone. I ended up with friends and trusted colleagues I'm sure I'll lean on (and hold up) over the coming years.”

Maintaining positive momentum from the week and reinforcing these connections are two of the goals as we move beyond Directors University. The planning committee is looking to schedule additional training and networking opportunities in the months ahead, providing a platform for DU alumni to stay connected and continue their learning. With a large number of new public library directors across Illinois each year, it is our hope to make Directors University an annual training opportunity. A 2018 committee has been formed to analyze feedback from this year’s event and begin plans for next year.

A great many individuals and organizations made Directors University possible. Committee members from public libraries across the state, staff from RAILS and Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS), as well as the Illinois State Library and the Illinois Library Association, contributed their time and services. The generous financial support of our sponsors included a significant grant from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. Our presenters, who came from near and far, volunteered their time and talents to share their knowledge with our audience of directors. And our DU Committee Co-chairs Kathy Parker and Betsy Adamowski put the wheels in motion to make Directors University a reality.
Most importantly, kudos to the fifty-nine library directors who attended and shared their passion and desire to make their library a vital resource for their community. Their dedication and passion to library service make it clear that Illinois libraries are in the best possible hands!

As a newer and inexperienced director, I was very excited to attend Directors University. I am the sole staffer at the library, and no training was available when I took over. I went with the anticipation of learning more about some of the many facets of being a director. I definitely got a LOT of useful information (who would have guessed record retention was such serious business?), but I also came away with so much more than just the “nuts and bolts” of directorship.

If someone had told me that I have anything in common with an experienced director in a massive facility with a large staff and a huge service population, I would not have believed it. Much to my surprise, I learned that the majority of directors, regardless of experience, community, or facility size, all face nearly identical challenges (not the least of which are funding shortfalls and not nearly enough hours in the day to get everything done).

However, there is a great deal of help available. There is an entire network of other directors, all of whom are more than happy to provide input when called upon. And then there is the system staff at RAILS and IHLS (whom I can’t thank enough for offering this opportunity); the staff of my consortium, Resource Sharing Alliance (RSA); not to mention the wonderful folks at the Illinois State Library, all of whom are more than willing to contribute help, ideas, suggestions, and so much more!Through someone’s mention of extra eclipse glasses, I made contact with Claire Crawford, the director of the Geneseo Public Library District, who was able to provide me with enough glasses for my library to run a program in conjunction with our local schools, covering every kid from second through eighth grade (thanks, Claire!).

It is easy to feel isolated when you are in a very rural community with no fellow staffers. On the final day of Directors University, we all participated in an exercise where everyone was given a Post-It Note and asked to write down their biggest take-away from the four days. When tons of Post-Its appeared all saying, “You are not alone,” that really made an impression. I had to close my library for four days to attend Directors University but I consider it to have been time very well spent. The ideas and information that I brought back can only benefit my library as well as my community. I would highly recommend the experience to any/every new (or newer) director.

Helping to facilitate the very first Directors University was a pleasure and an honor. I met so many dedicated and smart new directors. I learned a lot, too. I witnessed a lot of GRATITUDE from many, many participants. They were grateful for our time, the learning, and the chance to meet other new directors from across the state. We facilitators were grateful to the participants for devoting serious and involved attention to the sessions. Being part of this grateful environment was nothing short of wonderful.

At the end of the training, most of the new directors said they didn’t feel so alone in their jobs. They met the life-saving people at the Illinois State Library and learned from experienced directors. They interacted with each other. They had a chance to vent and they were soothed by all of us. The participants left with contact info for the state library staffers, other participants, the facilitators, and the trainers. We offered them resources to remind them of what they learned and to enhance their learning. Dare I say they were grateful for this?
These dedicated new directors wear their library hearts on their sleeves. It was easy to see how much they care for their users and staff. Two participants from tiny libraries didn’t want to charge their libraries for the mileage to get to the conference. I heard many directors excitedly talk about new ideas for their libraries. Their communities probably don’t know how lucky they are to have them.

Another thing I observed was that large and small libraries are more alike than different. At Directors University, all sizes of libraries were represented. We have different strengths and opportunities based on size, but we all have similar challenges. We have to spend within our budgets, try to keep staff and users happy, stay current with the new, and be sure we’re following all the rules and regulations—and we have to do this within a limited time frame. We never have as much time as we want.

No matter their service population, the directors-in-training were serious about being the best directors possible. One of the participants, Kristin Holzhauer, said that Directors University far exceeded her expectations—and she was expecting a good program. She said it was “totally worth every second,” and is currently implementing some of her new learning at her library, Pontiac Public Library.
When I was in library school, a professor said that the definition of a librarian is a lifelong learner who likes to help people. That’s what I observed at Directors University in the kind and patient help of the facilitators, state library personnel, and the speakers. But I also saw it in our new directors. I learned a lot right along with them—THEY inspire me to go back and do better.

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