An Exit Interview

December 30, 2010


What better way to make sure you’re asked the right questions in your exit interview than to conduct it yourself? So after 22 years on the American Libraries staff, 15 of them at the helm, here comes mine:

Why are you leaving AL? I’m listening to a little voice inside that says it’s time to move on.

To do what? Take a four-month leave and write another book.

And then what? Concentrate on public awareness and the @ your library website and forge alliances and partnerships with foundations and related organizations that will help ALA’s advocacy and outreach directly to the public. My next book, Reading with the Stars: A Celebration of Books and Libraries, is scheduled to be published as a trade hardback in April, and I want to promote this book with the goal of helping librarians reach out to funding officials, administrators, and other potential library patrons and advocates.

What is the best work you’ve done? I’m proud of our coverage of disasters—from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina—and all of our efforts to make  library connections to big national and international stories. It took some doing to get exclusive interviews with Bill Gates, Laura Bush at the White House, and Julie Andrews as our special guest to celebrate AL‘s the centennial. They and many others are in the forthcoming book. Listening to successful people talk about their love of reading and libraries has been enormously gratifying.

What have you done to make a difference? I wrote my first editorial in February 1989 as an associate editor, taking publishers to task for allowing important black literature to go out of print. My faith in the value of libraries has shaped everything I’ve ever done for the magazine, which includes publishing articles by some of the best writers in the profession; some of them are still writing for us.

What advice would you give your successor? AL communicates with readers through six print issues a year, a popular weekly e-newsletter, and a fluid website that includes original news reporting, interviews, video, photo galleries, advertising, JobLIST, and eight blogs. But speed is the key. Change needs to happen quickly in the 21st century as new communication options become available.

Have you had any hidden agendas? I have always preferred “patron” over “user” or “customer” and “library” over “information” and its various incarnations. Another was to get us to laugh about the librarian stereotype, instead of reinforcing it by scolding the media. Still another, perhaps not so hidden, was to expand international coverage.

What do you see as the future? It’s waiting to be invented. The best thing ALA can do is hire creative library and publishing professionals and help them shine. With this, my last issue, I leave that future to them.


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