OPINION: Mayor Bronson should hire a real library director

When I teach my university Library Science students about the process of academic journal peer review, I talk about subject expertise. The concept is intuitively obvious, and yet for non-academics, it can be somewhat mysterious. It takes a few classroom exercises and lectures before all my students start to catch on.

I start with some simple questions: Do you want an auto mechanic telling you how to fix your broken leg? Of course not, how silly. Do you want a surgeon telling you how to hook up your new generator to house electricity? That’s not a great idea!

We hire people into positions of expertise because they have training, education and experience that matches the work they will be required to do, the decisions they will be responsible for. When it comes to leaders, that expertise, experience and education are even more critical. Leaders need to be respected by those who report to them. They need to show that they can make wise decisions and implement change that is good for the organization and its constituents. Some folks seem to have forgotten how important this expertise can be, assuming that anyone’s opinion is just as valid as the next person’s, regardless of their background.

So why on earth would Mayor Bronson insist on putting non-qualified people into the Anchorage Public Library director position? The folks he has chosen, all rightfully rejected by the Assembly, have none of the above described qualifications for a library director -- no library expertise, experience or education, none. They don’t know how libraries run, what the best practices are, how those libraries network with each other to share resources, develop their collections or acquire online resources.

Each area of a library has its own expertise -- cataloging, online systems, collection development, outreach programs, circulation, interlibrary loan, special collections and more. Until you have worked in a library, you probably have no idea what goes on in all those areas, all of which make the library run efficiently and help provide the excellent services patrons expect.

The person currently sitting in the office of the deputy director at the Anchorage Public Library has absolutely no idea how the world of knowledge is produced. She isn’t aware of publishers or library vendors, the breadth or depth of information resources, or how to use most of them. She doesn’t know what the staff do or why, or how to build a collection to meet the needs of all library users, including those users the librarian might strongly disagree with. She doesn’t understand the ethics professional librarians are expected to uphold, such as the core principle of intellectual freedom, or what they might learn in a master’s degree program.

What this pseudo-“director” does know how to do is destroy, and that is her real function in Bronson’s administration. That is certainly the goal behind Amy Demboski stepping in to oversee the library. She is not qualified in any way to run a library.


Destroying the Anchorage Public Library system as a source of information accessible to all is the objective of Bronson, all his appointees, and many of his supporters. If they can wreck the library, they can stop the transfer of information, knowledge and silence perspectives they dislike. Or so they believe, but they will not succeed. The residents of Anchorage want and deserve a real library director who is qualified for the job. It’s high time they get one.

Karen Jensen has worked in libraries for more than 30 years and currently serves as library director at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Rasmuson Library. The words expressed here are hers alone, neither endorsed by nor representing her employer.

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