Why we need a librarian as library director

Recently, Mayor Dave Bronson nominated Sami Graham and Judy Eledge to the post of Anchorage Public Library Director. Neither have library backgrounds, but he cited their educational experience as qualifications. He spoke of Eledge’s “background and experience to help refresh and refocus our children’s attention on reading.” That is not the main focus of the APL director’s duties, nor should it be, for several reasons.

I am a retired English teacher. I am also a longtime member of the Friends of the Library and the Alaska Library Association (AkLA). (By the way, I’ve never seen Ms. Graham or Ms. Eledge at any of the six AkLA conferences I’ve attended, or at any Friends of the Library events.) I’m also a volunteer in the teen program at the Anchorage Public Library. I know from my teaching and volunteer experience that teaching or leading a school is very different than leading a library system.

As their website states, the mission of APL is “Connecting people to education, information and community. Our vision for Anchorage is an educated and connected community where our Library is an essential center for learning, inspiration, and community pride for people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures.” Local libraries do encourage children and their families to read, of course, through storytime events, summer reading programs and other youth activities. The public is most familiar with the library as a source of books, music and movies, and all those items need to be acquired, catalogued and checked out to library users. But libraries also provide other services, including giving reference help, assessing media and reference sources, delivering databases and computer access, supplying job and career information, offering space for community group meetings, and hosting or moderating events.

Anyone with the required Master of Library Science degree and seven years of library experience has probably done or arranged many of the services above. They have the qualifications to manage staff and budgeting in a library system like the Anchorage Public Library. In addition, APL is the largest library system in the state, making it a leader in many areas including managing a large part of the state catalog. The director’s actions affect all libraries, not just our local ones.

All these library services require a safe, welcoming space for all our residents. One of APL’s values is providing “excellent service that is confidential, nonjudgmental and nonpartisan.” That last item is why I suspect the mayor has not nominated a librarian in the positions he has appointed so far, as many of the nominees have held partisan opinions. Those opinions have no place in a public library that serves all community members.

Thank you to all our librarians, in the APL and in other libraries in our community. I applaud your public service and your commitment to helping our residents stay informed, connected, and able to build our community into a better place that supports people from every neighborhood, age, background, and culture. Libraries and access to information are part of the foundation of our democracy, and you deserve leaders who will help you serve the public, not hinder your mission.

Lynn Lovegreen lives in the Anchorage area and writes young adult fiction.

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