Meet Your Candidates: Thomas Smedinghoff, River Forest Library Board of Trustees

Technology and information attorney makes a bid for office.

Thomas Smedinghoff, 59, is aiming for a spot on the River Forest Public Library Board of Trustees, the seven-member group responsible for shaping the library's fiscal and operating policies. 

Members of the library board serve six-year terms. This year, three seats are up for election and four candidates — Smedinghoff, , and — are vying for spots on the board. 

According to the biography posted at the website of Wildman Harrold, the Chicago-based law firm where he's a partner, Smedinghoff chaired from 1996 to 1998 the Illinois Attorney General's Commission on Electronic Commerce and Crime and has served as a delegate to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. He is also a school board member at St. Luke's Catholic School in River Forest. 

Patch: How would you assess the state of the library’s budget?

Thomas Smedinghoff: My sense is that right now the budget is adequate for the Library’s current needs, and that there is no funding crisis at this time.  However, any cut backs in State funding for programs such as the inter-library loan system may ultimately affect the services the Library is able to provide to the community.

If expenses need to be reduced, exactly what would you cut?  Please be specific.

At this point, I do not have any pre-conceived views regarding what expenses could or should be cut.  If it becomes necessary, making that decision should begin with a thorough evaluation of the Library’s needs and priorities for the future.

If more revenue needs to be raised, exactly what would you propose? Please be specific.

I would look at alternate nontraditional and creative sources, such as obtaining grants for targeted initiatives, partnerships with other libraries or groups, building up an endowment, fundraising activities, and the like.

The library seems to have robust offerings of eBooks, audiobooks, etc.  Are you aware of any other developing technologies that patrons can use? 

The library has quite an extensive list of other technology-related offerings and services.  These include numerous online databases accessible to patrons from home, online magazines, Media on Demand services for eBooks, videos, and music, and the ability to text a librarian for on-demand reference questions.

Communication technologies used by the Library include the Library website, Twitter, Facebook, and an e-mail newsletter.  One of the key issues going forward is determining which technologies should be provided by the Library to best serve the community.

Does the library have WiFi?  If so, how would you rate the connection?

Yes.  In my experience the wi-fi connection has been excellent.

What are you currently reading?

Goo-gled: The End of the World as We Know It, by Ken Auletta

Is the library adequately reaching out to diverse populations, i.e., people with primary languages other than English, people with visual difficulties, others?

Answering that question is a key issue that must be considered in the context of assessing the future role of the library in the digital age.  It is an issue that should be periodically reviewed and seriously evaluated. 

And this question potentially applies to all relevant constituent groups, including children, teens, aging population, those with differing abilities, business users, people with primary languages other than English, etc.

Does the library get adequate feedback from patrons?  If not, how would you increase the flow of communication? Please be specific.

My sense is that the community in general is not fully aware of all of the services the Library offers, particularly the digital online services.  The Library has many electronic methods of communication (e-mail, text messages, Twitter, Facebook, website, etc.), but may need to do more to let the community know what is available, and to seek feedback.

Please assess the Lathrop Avenue facility.  Does it need any need improving?

There are a number of maintenance issues that need to be addressed.  It is my understanding that the Board is actively working to address these issues. 

What else would you like voters to know about your positions on issues, point of view or qualifications?

By way of background, I am an attorney practicing technology and information law.  This involves addressing legal issues relating to uses of new technology, the Internet, electronic commerce, personal privacy, data security, and intellectual property.  I have also written five books on technology legal issues, frequently write articles, and serve on the editorial boards of four professional publications. 

From my perspective, the most important issues facing the Library revolve around defining the role of the public library in the digital age in which we live, and the way it can best serve the changing needs of the various groups within the community. 

Libraries have always been critical to our society.  And given the rapidly changing ways that we access and consume information today, we need to give serious thought to how libraries will best serve our needs in this changing environment.  As the Library changes, it also needs to communicate to the community the availability of its diverse resources.  I would be honored to be part of this process.


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