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Seasoned educator Bronson’s new library manager faces opposition over lack of library experience

Anchorage’s new librarian, Sami Graham, stands in the Loussac library. (Municipality of Anchorage)

Anchorage’s new chief librarian, appointed by newly elected mayor Dave Bronson, has two master’s degrees in counseling and educational leadership.

But Sami Graham has never worked as a librarian, prompting library advocates to pressure the Assembly against its confirmation, saying the best librarian in town needs specific experience. Graham’s $ 120,000-a-year predecessor, Mary Jo Torgeson, had a master’s degree in library science and public administration.

The installation of a library system leader who lacks library experience also puts funding for state grants at risk, Graham’s opponents say.

Graham, in an interview, said she had been a teacher, principal and counselor – and as someone born and raised in Anchorage, she added that she was familiar with the areas of the city. She said she brought education and leadership experience to her new job and had written and advocated for school library grant proposals.

“I am a lifelong learner, so I am more than willing to learn,” she said. “But there is nothing that I have seen that is insurmountable that we cannot work as a team.”

Graham, 62, has worked in both the public and private school system, most notably at Grace Christian School.

She narrowly lost a race for the Anchorage School Board earlier this year. After the election, Graham said she sent a letter of interest to Bronson’s transition team – not specific to the librarian position – and that the position was subsequently suggested to her.

Related: Politics take center stage as race for Anchorage school board kicks off

As Bronson campaigned on a platform to cut spending, Graham said she didn’t have specific ideas for slashing the library system’s $ 9 million budget, and that she was not planning nor other substantial changes to its operations. And although she’s a Republican who has garnered the support of several prominent Tories in her run for the school board, Graham said she doesn’t bring a political agenda to work.

“There is a big vision defined for the library,” she said. “My goal is simply to continue this mission, to connect people to education, to information, to the community.”

First, however, it will need to be confirmed by the Anchorage Assembly, whose members have received a constant stream of correspondence about Graham’s appointment – including current and former library employees and others. residents who say she lacks the necessary experience.

John Weddleton, who represents South Anchorage, said he received more comments on Graham than any other municipal representative in his five years in the assembly.

a person poses in front of a brick wall
John Weddleton (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

“I’ll tell you that library fans are very passionate about the library,” Weddleton said.

Library Boosters have several concerns about Graham’s appointment.

One is its lack of specific library training and experience.

After Torgeson, the former chief librarian, retired, but before Bronson was elected, the city posted a job offer for the position. The minimum requirements for the position included a master’s degree in library science and seven years of professional library experience, including three as an administrator in a “medium to large library system”.

Among the nominees were acting head of the library, Jacob Cole, as well as others who qualified, said Kim Hays, who chairs the Anchorage Library Foundation, a nonprofit booster group. The foundation has not taken a formal position on Graham’s appointment, but did discuss “shared concerns,” Hays said in a telephone interview.

“I don’t think seven years of professional library experience is necessarily something you can get on the job,” Hays said. “Some of these things are very technical, and it’s not something you learn without having that training and education – or at least working in a library for years.”

the Alaska Library Association Also holding meetings this week to hear members’ concerns about Graham, said Jonas Lamb, chairman of the association’s board of directors.

A spokesperson for Bronson did not respond to a question about why Graham was appointed if she did not meet the posted qualifications.

Graham said she worked in school libraries and even put away books. She said she had also drafted a grant proposal to the state legislature to keep a school library open during the summer and would look to municipal library staff in areas where she is less experienced.

“Everything I don’t know, I know there is a great team here who will help me learn it,” she said.

The other central objection to Graham’s appointment is that it could jeopardize $ 35,000 in annual state grants. State regulations state that municipal libraries are only eligible for scholarships if the library manager has a master’s degree in library science or information science.

But Patience Frederiksen, the state librarian, said she could waive those regulations if asked.

“It’s a possibility,” she said. “I do not yet have a request from Anchorage to do this, as we do not know the outcome of the confirmation hearings for Sami Graham.”

Assembly members have yet to schedule a working session or vote on Graham’s nomination.

Assembly member Weddleton said generally he gives a new mayor substantial deference in forming his own team. But he will take residents’ comments into consideration, he added.

“I think people have raised some good points,” Weddleton said.

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