Making Books His Business New Director at Ela Library Keeps an Eye on the Bottom Line

By DeRaleau, Janet | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Making Books His Business New Director at Ela Library Keeps an Eye on the Bottom Line


DeRaleau, Janet, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Janet DeRaleau Daily Herald Correspondent

When is a public library not just a library? When it's a business.

With library budgets getting tighter than newly bound books, the people who run them are being asked to be not just librarians but financial planners.

"We needed someone who could run a business," said Jim Dudas, president of the Ela Area Public Library District board of trustees and an executive at Allstate, explaining the criteria his board used when searching for a new director last year.

After a five-month nationwide search, board members at the Lake Zurich-based library found Frank Novak, 36, a librarian with a law degree and former tax consultant with Deloitte and Touche.

Novak runs a library district that spans five communities with an annual budget of $4.5 million dollars. His challenge is to plan financially for a day in the not-so-distant future when the taxpayers' demand for services will exceed the library district's financial ability to provide them, said Dudas.

Novak calls Ela library, "a business like any other," saying the principles of conservatism that he learned in his college accounting classes still apply. It's his job to meet the budget and be mindful of the bottom line while keeping the needs of the public in mind, he said.

While some may wonder why a corporate tax attorney would switch to not-for-profit government work, Novak said it simply: "I needed to be happy."

The long hours and impersonal nature of his former for-profit job just weren't satisfying to him, despite the higher pay, he said. In the library world, he can combine his financial know-how with serving a public he sees everyday. He is in charge and he likes it that way.

"I'm running my own business at Ela," he said. "I love being on the wire, live without a net."

Anna Yackle, an issues consultant with the North Suburban Library System in Wheeling, confirms that Novak and a growing group of new library directors with corporate backgrounds know things they don't teach in library school.

"Libraries have gotten bigger and there is the realization that they are small businesses," she said, adding that especially in today's economic climate, taxpayers want to know their money is being spent wisely.

Novak landed in the library world quite by accident - or a stroke of good luck, as he calls it. …

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