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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Deborah Jacobs Is Leaving Seattle Public Library

posted by on April 9 at 12:02 PM

City Librarian Deborah Jacobs—who made the Seattle Public Library what it is, who has been written about a lot in the local dailies (“Whatever Deborah Jacobs wants, it sometimes seems, Deborah Jacobs gets through the sheer force of her will, drive and charisma”), who has been lauded as a genius in The Stranger, who has been praised by The New Yorker’s architecture critic in this review of the downtown library in 2004 (“Deborah Jacobs seems to have been about as close to an ideal client as could be imagined, and she protected the architects from some of their worst instincts”)—is leaving Seattle Public Library. She’s accepted a job at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leading their Global Libraries initiative. Her last day at SPL will be July 2.

“While I intended to stay at The Seattle Public Library until my retirement, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given me an opportunity to take the passion and values that guide my life to places where information is not as accessible as in Seattle,” she says in the press release that went out today. I’ll put the whole thing, with quotes from the mayor and stuff, after the jump.

April 9, 2008


The Seattle Public Library board of trustees announced today that City Librarian Deborah L. Jacobs has accepted a position with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and will leave her Library post July 2, 2008.

Library Board President Eric Liu said, “Deborah’s legacy is remarkable. With vision, passion and skill, she has helped build one of the nation’s most vibrant and respected public institutions. Deborah leaves us a Seattle Public Library that is strong and ready for its next great chapter. We’re grateful for her decade of service and leadership – and while we will miss her, we’re glad she’ll still be a patron of the Library and a citizen of Seattle.”

Liu said board members will soon develop a plan for how it will choose Jacobs’ successor.
Mayor Greg Nickels said, “Deborah Jacobs has led our Library through a remarkable period of growth and renewal. She understands the important role libraries play in bringing communities together. I wish her the very best as she takes her passion and dedication to a global stage and leaves a lasting legacy.”

Jacobs will begin her work as Deputy Director, Global Libraries for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Aug. 10, 2008. Global Libraries is a special initiative of the foundation’s Global Development Program. In her new position, Jacobs will lead Global Libraries, which is focused on reducing inequities by expanding and improving public access to technology in libraries.

“Deborah is an outstanding leader who brings tremendous expertise and passion for libraries to the foundation,” said Chip Lyons, Director of Special Initiatives. “She has a deep understanding of the important role libraries play in addressing inequities through free public access to information.”
“It has been a privilege to serve as Seattle’s city librarian,” Jacobs said. “The Seattle Public Library’s many successes are due to a dedicated Library Board, hard working staff, support from elected officials, and the advocacy and fund-raising efforts of The Seattle Public Library Foundation and Friends of The Seattle Public Library. Together, we have built a strong foundation able to meet the future needs of our community. I have confidence the Library will continue to soar!

“While I intended to stay at The Seattle Public Library until my retirement, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given me an opportunity to take the passion and values that guide my life to places where information is not as accessible as in Seattle,” she said.

Jacobs was appointed city librarian in November 1997 after an extensive national search. She immediately went to work developing a $235 million comprehensive plan to expand, replace and construct new branches, as well as build a new downtown library. Her commitment to the effort and extensive work in every neighborhood - attending hundreds of meetings - resulted in overwhelming public support for a $196.4 million “Libraries for All” bond issue in 1998. At that time, it was the largest bond measure ever approved for library construction in the country, and passed by a nearly 70 percent majority.

Seattle’s spectacular Central Library, which opened to rave reviews in 2004, continues to draw large numbers of Seattle users, as well as tourists and media from around the world. It has become a city icon. In addition, Seattle neighborhoods have welcomed their revitalized branches, many with award-winning designs. Nearly 11.6 million people visited Seattle libraries in person or virtually in 2007. The last two of 28 construction projects – each one completed as promised to voters - will finish in July.

Under Jacobs’ leadership, The Seattle Public Library Foundation raised an unprecedented $82 million for library construction and endowments.

Former Library Foundation president and Library Board member Gilbert W. Anderson said of Jacobs’ departure, “I’m sad for The Seattle Public Library. Deborah has done such an incredible job for the Library, community and city of Seattle, but I am certainly happy for her, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is certainly fortunate to have someone of her caliber, intellect and drive be part of its team.”

With renewed buildings and expanded services, the Library’s annual circulation of books and materials has risen to 9.3 million. It was 4.9 million when she arrived. Ensuring the Library maintained a high level of customer service through strong collections and staff, Jacobs helped grow the Library budget from $25 million in 1997 to its current $47 million.

Jacobs often talked about “inventing the future, but staying appropriately anchored in the past.” Her leadership of the Library reflected that. Her passion and commitment to the mission of the Library resulted in new initiatives in the areas of early learning, services to immigrants and refugees, and other underserved populations.

She also pushed to incorporate new technologies and more online features to Library services, keeping the Library relevant and accessible to more people than ever before. The Seattle Public Library now offers a 24-hour “chat” reference service, online homework help, free access to more than 70 premium databases, blogs for teens and adults, podcasts of popular Library programs and much more.

Jacobs’ commitment to engaging the community led to the strengthening of community partnerships ranging from the Seattle School District to The Stranger, as well as collaborations with scores of cultural groups, such as the Frye Art Museum and the Vera Project.

Jacobs has received many awards that honor her achievements and leadership at The Seattle Public Library.

This month, the Women’s University Club of Seattle will honor Jacobs with its Brava Award. In 2005, the Seattle Architectural Foundation named her a winner of the Shaping Community: A.O. Bumgardner Award, Puget Sound Business Journal named her one of Seattle’s Women of Influence, and Seattle Weekly named her Best City Shaper.

In 2004, Engineering News Record named her Newsmaker of the Year for “engaging citizens and inspiring designers” and Seattle Magazine named her one of Seattle’s 25 Most Influential People. The same year, she also received a Civic Enrichment in the Humanities Award from the Museum of History and Industry.

In 2003, she was named an honorary member of the Seattle American Institute of Architects. In 2001, Jacobs was named one of Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year, becoming the first librarian ever to receive the honor. She also was named Intellectual Freedom Champion of the Year by the Oregon Library Association and Librarian of the Year by the Library Journal. More information can be found at:

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That sucks

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | April 9, 2008 12:43 PM

This just in: The B & M Gates foundation announces plans to build a $600M library in central Kinshasa, designed by Starchitect Zaha Hadid.

In an announcement by Director of Global Libraries initiative, Deborah Jacobs, the foundation states "This revolutionary new building will bring the joy of modern architecture to the Kinshasian population and provide many impactful places for patrons to sit and read."

The library will also provide a "mixing room" where patrons can masturbate to internet pornography.

Posted by meks | April 9, 2008 1:13 PM

She's the one who decided to kill the down escalator, isn't she?

Posted by Fnarf | April 9, 2008 1:28 PM

That does NOT suck!!!

Posted by iworkatthelibrary | April 9, 2008 2:38 PM

Seattle's loss is the third world's gain.

Best of luck to her, and I hope we find an equally passionate replacement.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | April 9, 2008 2:45 PM

Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead!

Look, the general public may believe her own publicity - at which she is quite skilled - but for anyone who's worked at the libraries who is not one of her little coven, that is GREAT news. The woman is a slash-and-burn finger-pointing Type A headcase. I have never, ever regretted my decision to leave that miserable environment.

Posted by Former Library Employee | April 9, 2008 3:35 PM

And it's not just the people who worked for her that hate this self-promoting cow. What an obscene waste of money to spend $165 million on space that could have been had for free (if the library had traded the land and development rights for 100,000 square feet in the new building). Instead, she builds a monument to her own ego - and is forced to slash services in most of the other branches. Jacobs long ago forgot the true mission of the library - and instead cared only about how to advance her own interests. And it's the citizens of Seattle who have suffered. We should all rejoice to be seeing this horrible woman go.

Posted by How much affordable housing could $165 million produce? | April 9, 2008 3:55 PM

And when she leaves, can she take that disfunctional and uncomfortable monstrosity at 4th and Madison with her!

Posted by Roberto | April 9, 2008 4:02 PM

She is amazing. Whatever your personal feelings (if you know her that is), she has only really cared about libraries and getting the public to use the facilities. She practices what she preaches, and you are so lucky she brought so much reading to your city.

Posted by Jennifer | April 9, 2008 5:11 PM


Um, what the hell are you talking about? Who made this mythical land swap offer of which you speak?

Before Jacobs even came on, there was an unsuccessful City Library bond proposal in 1994 or 1995 that only had funds for a new Central Library - and precious little else for the rest of the system. They brought it back to the ballot after adding a lot of projects to renovate and/or add new neighborhood libraries and voters passed it handily. As far as I remember, there was never any serious proposal for anything but a new stand-alone Downtown Library (and as I recall, I was happy at the time that they kept it at the original location instead of moving it to the so-called "Cameras West" block as part of the whole foul Nordstrom Garage deal).

You may have reasons not to like Jacobs (or the building that resulted), but that particular line of attack is way off base.

Posted by Mr. X | April 9, 2008 9:37 PM

#6 NAILS IT!!!!! "Coven"??? Exactly!!!

Posted by anotherlibraryworker | April 10, 2008 4:20 PM

I'll tell you what's never overdue...a substantial endowment!!!

Posted by Christopher Frizzelle's Substantial Endowment | April 10, 2008 9:38 PM

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