A Time for Change and Thanks

As executive director role ends, fondness for ALA, members will persist

March 2, 2020

On February 24, Tracie D. Hall will step into the position of ALA executive director. I will step back and work at her direction to assist during the initial months of her tenure as executive director. We have worked together before when she was director of what is now known as the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with her again. At the end of the 2020 ALA Annual Conference, I will retire.

It has been an honor to serve in this role. It has been a time of necessary change and disruption. Both staff and member leaders have accomplished work that has shifted the trajectory of the Association. In thinking back over the past few years, the hard, collaborative work of many has created the possibility of—and the potential for—ongoing growth and development.

What have I learned? My capacity to see nuances and detail has warred with the necessity to visualize simplicity in a complex environment. For me, the process of draft and redraft, of talking it through with others, has been ongoing. An introvert by nature, I have learned to pull vital energy from the intensity of meetings and conferences. I have learned that when I call for help, colleagues all across this Association—and beyond—will respond. I have learned that even when we differ on strategies, we may share intent and objectives.

What will I miss? Too many things to count.

After 20-plus years of watching Council from the gallery, it was a pleasure to serve as the Secretary of Council and watch the action from the front—to see your faces rather than your backs. From the executive director spot, I was privileged to see the entire Association, each piece of a complex whole. No matter how much anyone is able to observe in other capacities, this is a unique perspective, a vantage point that has been precious.

The scope is astounding—from the broad range of public policy and advocacy, to books and literacy for all ages, to the work of organizing and managing libraries of all types, to collaborations across multiple external organizations in the US and around the globe.

From the executive director perch you see the amazing impact of libraries and the people who give them life. It crosses your screen, your desk every day—from the people who reach out to the Association and its members, from the stories passed along by staff and members, from more invitations and opportunities than you can manage. The story told by the daily flow of contacts and conversations is the story of libraries and of all library people. Seeing it from this viewpoint has been an incredible gift.

This story has been about the importance of persistence. I see it in our staff members who answer the inquiries, edit another book, prepare another set of minutes, craft another event or conference­—over and over, with continuing thought and creativity.

I see it in our members who patiently move an idea or program through the successive stages, through committees, through the processes of a complex organization.

There will be time yet for many good-byes. I will see many of you over the coming months: at the office, at various events, and finally at Annual Conference.

Still, it’s hard not to think about what I’ll miss. Mostly, I will miss the people—the countless quick greetings, the informal conversations (sometimes in odd places), the cat stories, the knitting progress. It will be the moment when you realize the baby you remember has graduated from college and has a full adult life. It will be the countless “remember when” stories.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about me. It’s you, it’s us. Thank you—and Tracie, welcome.


Mary Ghikas

Hanging Up Her Hat

An interview with outgoing ALA Executive Director Mary Ghikas

Tracie D. Hall

Meet ALA’s Next Executive Director

Tracie D. Hall selected as the new head of the American Library Association