February 17, 2018

Lori Bell | Movers & Shakers 2004

The Idea Generator

Anyone who hires Lori Bell is getting two librarians: one who enthusiastically does the job, and another who develops new ideas, secures grants to fund them, and swiftly puts the ideas into action.

There’s nothing that makes a job more attractive to Bell than the freedom to try out new things. Jenny Levine, Internet development specialist at Illinois’s Suburban Library System, says that wherever Bell has gone, ‘Boom! Suddenly that library is doing exciting new projects.’

Bell’s career has been remarkably eclectic. She’s been a children’s librarian, a reference librarian, an outreach librarian, a technology consultant for library systems, and a hospital librarian. The constant in all of this has been her love for ‘working with new technologies and identifying and using these in whatever library system I happen to be in.’

As director of automation services at Alliance Library System, East Peoria, IL, she wrote $1 million worth of successful technology grants, helped 45 rural and small-town libraries connect to the Internet, and coordinated several collaborative digitization projects, including ‘Illinois Alive!’ and ‘Early Illinois Women and Other Unsung Heroes.’ At the same time, she organized, and in many cases presented, 50 technology programs a year for member libraries. Bell also collaborated with academic libraries on one of the first 24/7 virtual reference projects.

As a medical librarian at the OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, Bell wrote a grant to put PDAs in the hands of the physicians, provide appropriate software and databases for the PDAs, and train the doctors. One offshoot of this project was the web log she created to share ideas with colleagues, The HandHeld Librarian.

At the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center (MITBC), Bell is project leader for InfoEyes, a multistate virtual reference project for the visually impaired. She’s made MITBC one of the first talking book centers in the country to offer digital audiobooks through Audible.com’s Audible Otis. This tiny MP3-like player can be mailed to participants preloaded with up to three books of their choice. Bell is also experimenting with Voice-over Internet Protocol for her outreach programs.

The trick to winning grants, Bell says, is sheer persistence; you just need to keep trying. She likes what her boss, Valerie Wilford, says about her: ‘I’m like an ant. If I want to try a project and something doesn’t work out, I may be squashed for a moment, but I get right back up and try from another direction.’

If she only applied technologies in inventive ways to improve library service, she would be a certified ‘mover and shaker.’ But Bell has the librarian’s compulsion to share what she knows, so her other, equally important role is that of salesperson, evangelist, teacher, and inspiration to librarians throughout Illinois and beyond.

And yet, since one of the things she values most about work is ‘not being in the same place doing the same thing every day,’ don’t be surprised if she moves on to other jobs, other challenges, other new technologies.

Which means that one of these days, her employer is probably going to have to find a replacement for her. Or rather two replacements: one to meet the job description and one to transform the job.


Current Position: Director, Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center, East Peoria
Degree: M.S. in LIS, University of Illinois at Urbana, 1982
Awards: MCI Cybrarian of the Year Award for Illinois, 1998; Illinois Library Association’s Alexander Skryzpek Award for Outstanding Contribution to Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 1994