RAILS provides delivery service to support Illinois' interlibrary loan program and technology support for more than 600 libraries' shared online catalogs. Other services include:
- Continuing education and consulting resources to library employees and trustees
- Shared catalog support
- A consortial borrowing service that enables searching and requesting from multiple Illinois library catalogs through a single interface
- E-book services
- Cultural attractions/museum pass program
- Group purchases and vendor discounts
- Networking opportunities for library employees
- Targeted grant funding to member libraries
The RAILS service area covers northern and western Illinois. The system serves nearly 1,300 private, public, school, and university library members, representing more than 3,700 library facilities in a 27,000 square mile area. Although the city of Chicago is within RAILS' boundaries, and a number of RAILS member libraries are located in Chicago, the Chicago Public Library constitutes a separate library system.
Illinois library systems are established by state law (the Illinois Library System Act) and funded through the Illinois State Library and the Illinois Secretary of State, with funds appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly. RAILS was formed in 2011, through the merger of the Alliance, DuPage, Metropolitan, North Suburban, and Prairie Area library systems and is governed by a board of directors elected by member libraries.