For the first time since May of 2021, the Anchorage Public Library has a confirmed director.
“We’ve been waiting for you for 18 months and I’m so glad you’re here,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said Tuesday, before the Assembly confirmed Virginia McClure in a 10-0 vote.
The confirmation follows three failed nominations by Mayor Dave Bronson since he took office last year. The Assembly shot down his first pick, Sami Graham, largely because she lacked library-specific credentials and experience. Bronson’s second pick, Judy Eledge, withdrew, took the deputy director job and faced employee complaints of mismanagement and a toxic work environment. His third pick turned the job down.
“There’ve been some very challenging times in the last year and a half for the library,” Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said during McClure’s confirmation hearing last week. “The library is beloved by our community, and the public has been very clear in its desire for a professional librarian at the helm. So I’m very happy to see you in this role.”
McClure’s professional background includes a master’s degree in library and information science, various positions working in libraries in Kentucky beginning in 2007, and in Anchorage in more recent years. She last worked as a library consultant for the Anchorage Public Library. Her salary as its director is about $122,000 a year.
McClure said some of her goals include completing the new downtown library, building momentum for a South Anchorage branch and maintaining a collection that reflects the diverse community. She also alluded to morale issues that led many library employees to quit. An Assembly member said 23 library positions were open as of last week.
McClure said she wants to get the library “back on track.”
“I’d like the library to be fully staffed and the staff to be comfortable in their positions and ready to, you know, be back to 100%,” she said.
She said if staffing levels return to normal and security is in place, she wants to reopen the library on Sundays next year.
Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said she gets a lot of email from people concerned about the Bronson administration trying to ban books. She asked McClure how she would handle such requests.
“No librarian ever wants to censor or ban books,” she said. “So if there ever was a challenge to a book, we have a committee that looks into that challenge and considers it very carefully. We have a collection development policy that states very specifically the steps that we would go through, and we follow our policy. On the very rare occasions that we have removed a book from the collection, again, it’s a long thought process before we do that.”
McClure also said the library system’s policymakers would likely be amenable to making the book banning process more transparent.
Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant asked McClure what her philosophy is for safely managing the physical library spaces for everyone – from kids to people with mental illness.
She said she wants libraries to be welcoming, but purposeful. She wants to continue having community partners in the library – including social workers – to work with different patron groups.
“What librarians are not very good at is judging who to hire for a social work position or supervising a social worker, because librarians don’t have a social work background,” she said. “What we would really like to see is if the Health Department were the ones handling hiring and supervision of the social workers, but then they could provide services in the library as a partner program.”
Constant said he thinks there’d be support for that.
The last confirmed library director was Mary Jo Torgeson, who retired in May of 2021 after nine years in the position. The Assembly passed a resolution honoring her as she approached retirement.