An Interview with Deborah Jacobs

by Michael Wood, MLIS Day

Mary Gates Hall: Room 420. How many luminaries of the academic, government, and library worlds have crossed its threshold? This quarter the Seattle Public Library's renowned City Librarian, Deborah Jacobs, has been teaching an evening class in 420 on Public Library Advocacy. Recently, Ms. Jacobs was kind enough to take a few moments from her very full schedule to answer a few questions from The Silverfish:

Silverfish: Deborah Jacobs, in your twenty nine years of public service, you've gained a great deal of perspective on the changes in librarianship. Could you speak to where Public libraries stand in the present social and political climate?

Jacobs: Well, the exciting thing is that libraries everywhere in the United States are busier than ever and people are discovering that in spite of the internet, people need us more than ever and are using us more than ever. That's really fantastic-I think librarians have adapted to the times and have found improved ways to provide information to the people in our country.

Silverfish: SPL has an annual operating budget of $34.8 million; you are responsible for nearly 600 employees. Can you speak about one of the biggest issues that you are working on as our City librarian?

Jacobs: Yes; there are three major issues I'm working on rather than just one. The first is an internal issue, and that is to be working hard with our union, management and staff to find a way to allow more voices to be heard and to allow staff more and better ways to be involved in decision making in the library-and in communicating their needs.

The second and third are external-but of course they impact us internally. The second is to really work hard to develop advocacy skills for everyone in Seattle so that they will be advocating to our mayor and city council about the importance of library services. We are very blessed that we have a mayor and a city council who prioritize libraries with police and fire as mandatory city services. But we still need to bring our book budget, our staffing budget, our open hours budget, our technology budget, to a much higher level.

The third is an initiative that has been near and dear to my heart for my entire professional career-- something that with the Libraries for All program of constructing twenty-six new branch libraries and our new Central Library has made me have to take some time-out on-and that is creating plans and strategies finding ways to better welcome and serve our immigrant and refugee communities.

Silverfish: This quarter you've agreed to teach LIS 586, Public Libraries & Advocacy. Can iSchool students advocate for the profession, even if they are not Public Librarians involved in community outreach?

Jacobs: Absolutely, and in fact as I was saying in the earlier question, I think everybody can advocate, and should advocate. Whether you are an elementary school teacher, a garbage collector, or a University librarian, you can and should be speaking up for the value of Public libraries in your communities. The good thing about iSchool students is that they know so much more. So they can really speak to the need for libraries and speak to public officials and their neighbors and friends about why we need libraries.

Silverfish: Have you any observations to make to the iSchool readers of The Silverfish?

Jacobs: I guess the one thing that pleases me so much, and has continued to please me more and more in the last six years, has been the quality of our Information School-not only the faculty and the leadership of Mike Eisenberg, but the students that are graduating. The Seattle public library proudly hires, when our budget allows, recent graduates-as many recent graduates as we can. Not because it's convenient and they are local, but we believe because they are coming out of the Information School as some of the best educated, most dynamic, and smartest librarians around.


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Page last updated: March 14, 2004