Lake Bluff Library’s Board of Trustees Retreat: An Insider’s Look

On Saturday, February 24, the Lake Bluff Public Library Board of Trustees gathered at the Lake Bluff Park District in their Community Room for their first professional retreat of the Board’s new leadership. The keynote speaker was Jamie Rachlin, President of Meristem Advisors, LLC and Senior Financial Executive with decades of experience as a municipal banker and registered municipal advisor. All Library Board Trustees were in attendance at the Retreat, except one who was absent due to an out of town engagement.


The goal of this 4-hour professional retreat was to evaluate the Library’s current fiscal standing, discuss financial opportunities, and develop short and long term goals to ensure the sustainability of the organization. To start, Rachlin presented a comprehensive analysis of the Library’s current financial profile, highlighting the need to improve the organization’s financial strength due to having no capital reserves and a low fund balance. Neighboring public libraries who do not have capital reserve funds, such as Deerfield, Lake Forest, and North Chicago, carry fund balances of as much as 140% or higher of their annual expenditures. With a fiscal year-end fund balance of just 41% of expenditures, Lake Bluff Public Library’s fund balance falls to as little as 25% at its low point, which is similar to Highwood Public Library. Rachlin cautioned that this may be insufficient for building emergencies that might arise. Rachlin also reviewed the Library’s tax rates since 2006 and discussed how the organization’s financial history has limited its ability to address the current and future costs for capital and operational needs. 

Through Rachlin’s presentation, the Trustees also learned what revenue options could be explored to increase the Library’s financial standing and what the Library would need to consider to create a step-wise plan to achieve that goal. In order to properly make such an evaluation, Rachlin presented some of the considerations that would help determine the Library’s additional revenue needs:

  • Calculate costs needed to bring the building up to code compliance integrating the findings of the Building Report presented by Engberg Anderson Architects at the February 2024 Lake Bluff Public Library’s Board of Trustees meeting
  • Identify cost to properly operate the Library in its current configuration 
  • Quantify staffing cost to appropriately maintain operating hours and staff the building at desired levels of service and safety
  • Identify and evaluate the organization’s strategic goals and objectives to ensure the community is served as well as possible

After Rachlin’s presentation, Board members participated in small group breakout discussions, which were facilitated by professional Trainer, Facilitator and Lake Bluff community member Carrie Welles. Ms. Welles generously donated her professional facilitation and training skills to the Library for the Board Retreat.  The topic of discussion was community engagement. Specifically, Trustees discussed what community views of the Library are based on recent feedback provided to Trustees by community members. They also identified future topics and messaging that the Library needs to communicate to the community, including the importance of a Board Retreat summary to provide transparency to residents and the financial challenges of the organization. 

Reflections from Trustees 

“The Board retreat was an important step towards planning for the long-term financial viability of a core asset in our community, the Lake Bluff Public Library.  During this extended meeting, we were able to evaluate our financial position compared to that of neighboring libraries. Most importantly, we discussed go-forward options on how to improve the Library’s financial standing.” -Bonnie Shaul, Board President, Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee, Library Trustee

“I felt the retreat was inestimably valuable to the Trustees because our consultant gave such a clear overview of all the ways we can move to ensure the financial health of our Library, which is so clearly in jeopardy at this time. I didn't have any idea how many different ways there are to structure financial planning efforts besides simply raising our tax levy. I'm pleased to discover that so many options exist. I look forward to considering which options will be best for our organization, and then moving forward toward future financial sustainability. This is the only way we are going to be able to provide a facility and services that our residents and patrons deserve.” -Janie Jerch, Board Vice President, Chair of the Building and Grounds Committee, Library Trustee

“The Lake Bluff Public Library Board of Trustees is deeply invested in the long-term sustainability of the Library. The work we accomplished during the retreat provided an opportunity to identify clear pathways that will usher the Library into a transformative phase; one that honors the Library's history, is responsive to the community's needs and secures its future for many years to come.” -Alexandra Friedeman, Board Secretary, Chair of the Bylaws and Policy Committee, Library Trustee 

“I think that there were a number of things that were enlightening. We learned about the possibilities that we have for the library’s future. We care about the library and are exploring options for funding and getting the word out about the needs of the library.” -Sandy Jardine, Chair of Engagement Committee, Library Trustee

“One key takeaway - staff and trustees are working together with consultants and community members to ensure the success of the Library. I applaud the work that the Director, staff and Trustees have done to help the Library become more of a success including working with the village to build important relationships, researching and applying for new grant opportunities and finding new ways to reach out to community to ensure that we understand and are meeting the needs of our community members. Please take part in our survey to make sure your voice is heard.” -Jenny Graziano, Chair of Human Resources Committee, Library Trustee

 “The Library’s Board Retreat afforded Trustees the opportunity to make an honest assessment of the 5-10 year needs of the Library.  It also provided a holistic perspective on different funding options.” -Matt Zaute, Member of the Finance Committee, Library Trustee 

Next Steps

As a result of the Board Retreat, Library Trustees identified several next steps:

  1. Move forward with developing a Master Plan that is inclusive of building, facility, and technology needs
  2. Work with Engberg Anderson Architects and Meristem Advisors to create a three-tied financial projection analysis that encompasses capital and operational costs 
  3. Create and implement an engagement plan to expand understanding of the state of the Library with the Lake Bluff community

Your Voice Matters

The Library Board of Trustees wants to hear from you. Attend a Board or Committee Meeting and participate in public comment. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram and share a message. Send an email to the Library Director. Don’t forget to share feedback about the Hours Pilot in the Library’s brief online survey.


The mission of the Lake Bluff Library is to act as a vibrant community center that provides materials and services to enhance individual knowledge, offer personal enjoyment, expand technological resources, and facilitate civic interaction. - Approved by the Lake Bluff Library Board of Trustees in May 2013.

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