Inspired and Tenacious | Editorial

As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Initiative came to a close at the end of 2018, I joined many in reflecting on the massive contribution of that decades-long investment in libraries and what it now makes possible through its legacy partners.

Rebecca Miller head shot 170pxReflecting on the gift that is Deborah Jacobs

As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Initiative came to a close at the end of 2018, I joined many in reflecting on the massive contribution of that decades-long investment in libraries and what it now makes possible through its legacy partners.

The foundation’s focus on libraries was a boon to our ecosystem, from the first investments back in 1997 that enabled public access computing to become a reality to the last in 2018, designed to fulfill the foundation’s goal to “leave the field strong.” Throughout, there have been a number of smart leaders steering the foundation’s approach to libraries. I had the pleasure of working with several on LJ’s Best Small Library in America Award, created with foundation funding and now supported by sustaining sponsor Baker & Taylor.

For the last decade, that point person has been Deborah Jacobs, who left her role as city librarian of Seattle to become head of the Global Libraries program. She is one of those people—I hope you have some of them around you—who give you ideas and energy whenever you interact with them. They inspire you even as they challenge you to do a bit more than you think you can, think better than you have, and expect more of others.

two women smiling, one pointing at the other
ON POINT The enthusiastic Deborah Jacobs
Photo courtesy of IFLA

I met Jacobs while she was at the helm of the Seattle Public Library, as the Rem Koolhaas central building was under construction. Well before then, she had been making news and contributing thought leadership to the field, spurring LJ to name her the 1994 Librarian of the Year (LJ 1/95). That profile describes a caring listener and strategic thinker whose outright bravery and commitment to what is right ended hinting at what would come as she continued to grow in her career. That spirit and skill persisted throughout her tenure as Seattle City Librarian, where, among many contributions, she helped to transform the very sense of what library buildings could be with Seattle’s new Central Library, which opened in 2004. When she joined the Gates Foundation, she had the opportunity to apply her vision to the global library arena. (Look back at some of LJ’s coverage via PDFs posted with the online version of this article.)

Joyful, inspired, inspiring, and kind, Jacobs is ambitious  on behalf of libraries. Her vision and hope for them, and the people they serve, have spurred the profession, and her aim of a

With Jacobs, LJ's 1994 Librarian of the Year, at LJ's 2019 Librarian of the Year reception
Photo by Kevin Henegan

more connected community of practice has helped speed global efforts. The Next Library conference is just one example, as is the significant work being done by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), a Gates legacy partner, through its Global Vision initiative.

As seems fitting, the Global Libraries team has left some meaty thoughts on which to chew. “Five public library needs and opportunities” (detailed here) call for deeper collaboration and partnership building, urge libraries to articulate their impact and connect to community needs, and encourage us to foster leaders who are “inspired and tenacious” to drive strategic partnerships and more. Jacobs is a sterling example of what such a leader can do.

I thank the Gates Foundation for making this astounding and impactful contribution to libraries, enabling leaders to take on new approaches to strengthening these key institutions. I thank Jacobs in particular for being an excellent model of compassionate, aspirational leadership and am eager to see where her wonderful mind and heart take her next. 

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Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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