Debbie Smart, former Illinois library trustee of the year, stepping down in Arlington Heights

  • Arlington Heights Memorial Library board Trustee Debbie Smart, who led many of the library's major initiatives for more than a decade, is stepping down at the end of the month.

    Arlington Heights Memorial Library board Trustee Debbie Smart, who led many of the library's major initiatives for more than a decade, is stepping down at the end of the month. Daily Herald File Photo, 2017

Posted9/15/2022 5:30 AM

Longtime Arlington Heights Memorial Library board Trustee Debbie Smart -- once named state library trustee of the year -- is stepping down from her elected post.

"It's with a heavy heart and mixed emotions I must retire and resign my library board trustee position effective Friday, Sept. 30," Smart said in a tearful statement at a recent meeting. "I've been honored to serve with all of you. You're an incredible staff (and) one of the finest libraries in the country. While much of the heavy lifting has been done, I feel it is now time for me to have someone else appointed to this position who has the time and ability to focus on the upcoming year."


The library is hosting a public reception from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday to honor Smart ahead of her final board meeting.

Trustees that night are expected to review in closed session applications for the vacancy.

Smart, named Trustee of the Year in 2019 by the Illinois Library Association, was the driving force behind many of the library's initiatives since her election in 2011. During much of her tenure, she served as board president and treasurer.

Smart inspired the planning for the library's stand-alone Makerplace that opened a year ago. Located a few blocks from the main library, the 8,000-square-foot Belmont Avenue branch hosts do-it-yourself collaborative workspaces, including a commercial kitchen, fabrication room, and sewing and quilting area.

To gather equipment donations for the new branch and support the library with new revenue besides property taxes, Smart advocated for the creation of the nonprofit Arlington Heights Memorial Library Foundation. She's also involved in the Friends of the Library.

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Smart was in the headlines in 2017 when she defended the library's diversity initiatives after an immigrant-rights workshop was canceled over security concerns. Smart and the library switchboard received threatening phone calls from people opposed to the event.

That was around the same time as the resignation of Executive Director Jason Kuhl, leading to the search for and eventual promotion of longtime library employee Mike Driskell as his replacement about a year later.

Earlier this year, Smart gained the support of her fellow trustees to hoist the Pride flag for the first time outside the library in June. Smart in 2011 was the first openly LGBTQ person elected to public office in Arlington Heights.

During board deliberations in May, she said her proposal to display the rainbow flag garnered more emails in support than any other action taken by the board.


"It's time for us to be leaders again in this community and not be fearful of what if, but be grateful for what is," she said at the time.

A 31-year resident, Smart works for Briarwood Management, a property management company that oversees downtown Arlington Heights residential buildings.

Applicants for the board vacancy can submit a letter of interest with their qualifications to or in person at the library by 5 p.m. Friday. The board will pick three finalists on Tuesday, then interview them in closed session Oct. 3. Trustees will make a decision that night but take a formal vote on Oct. 25, when the new trustee will be sworn in.

The appointed trustee will serve until the new board is seated in May 2023, after the April 4 election. The board has indicated the appointee should intend to be on the ballot for a full term.

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