Indian Trails’ Shepard chose library career to make a difference in community

The Daily Herald featured an article about Executive Director Brian Shepard, 2019 Librarian of the Year by the Illinois Library Association. Written by Sam Jacobson.

Brian Shepard, executive director of the Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, began working at Indian Trails in 2013, having previously worked as a librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library for more than 10 years. (Joe Lewnard)

When Indian Trails Library District Executive Director Brian Shepard got his first high school job at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, he had no idea he’d spend the rest of his career in the library community.

It wasn’t until he started working in the corporate world that he realized his passion was in libraries.

“I really decided that if I was going to be working my whole life, I wanted to make a difference in my community,” Shepard said.

This month, Shepard was named the Librarian of the Year by the Illinois Library Association. Recipients are honored for their leadership, local and statewide impact and their dedication to the community.

Being close to home and having manageable hours for a high school student, the Arlington Heights Library provided the ideal space for Shepard to begin working in libraries in 1991. He worked there 22 years, briefly leaving from 1998 to 2000 for a corporate job.

Since taking the executive director position at Indian Trails Library in 2013, Shepard has been able to hone his passion while providing services to the more than 65,000 district residents in Wheeling, Buffalo Grove, Prospect Heights and Arlington Heights.

Shepard knew he made the right choice while teaching an ESL class in his first year at Indian Trails. One day, adult students were asked to share their dreams. During this ice-breaking game, participants talked of getting better jobs, providing more for their families and being able to interact and communicate with their children’s schoolteachers.

“It occurred to me that they all saw the library as a way to make those dreams happen,” he said. “I saw so many ways that we made a difference in our community.”

Brian Shepard, executive director of the Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, has been instrumental in instilling a variety of programs that benefit the community, including green initiatives, ESL courses, early learning spaces and partnering with the local park district. (Joe Lewnard)

Ryann Uden, deputy director of Indian Trails, sees Shepard as a mentor, and admires his ability to develop close relationships with other organizations. Relationships are often key factors in providing upgrades to the facilities and services provided by the library.

“I think he deserves (the state award) because of the impact on every organization he makes … he brings forth great integrity and knowledge for how to make things better,” Uden said.

Of all the programs and services Shepard helped bring to the library, he’s especially proud of the renovation completed in 2017. The work took several years of planning, and the community response has been overwhelmingly positive.

It included the addition of an early learning space and a maker’s space equipped with tools, such as a 3-D printer, laser cutter and sewing machines.

“It doesn’t matter the economic status, the age … we can provide services to every member of our community,” he said.

Diane Foote, executive director of the Illinois Library Association, has worked closely with Shepard and seen the impact of his dedication and determination. She admires his knowledge, and his tendency to hold everyone, including himself, to a high standard.

“He’s the kind of leader that is willing to put the work in himself … people who work with him are inspired by his example,” she said.

Shepard said he was surprised and humbled by the honor. Many previous winners are his mentors and people whom he has looked up to.

“I do this not for awards, I do this because I love it,” he said. “But this one is special to me because of the people who’ve received it before me.”