City Librarian, San José, CA
When she arrived to direct California’s San José Public Library (SJPL) in 2013, Jill Bourne faced the effects of years of decimating budget shortfalls and service cuts. The system’s 23 branches had all been built or renovated in a previous and generous capital improvement program, but several of the new buildings were already shuttered. In the rest, hours had been reduced to four days per week. Library use was in a steep decline.
The effectiveness with which Bourne spearheaded her Library Access Strategy, opened the libraries, built new relationships with and support from San José’s civic leadership, and leveraged partnerships and fostered innovation—and is now reaching beyond the library to a new citywide Education and Digital Literacy Initiative—has won over a newly inspired staff and convinced our judges to name her the 2017 LJ Librarian of the Year, sponsored by Baker & Taylor.
Bourne was instrumental in the successful passage of Measure B, a 25-year extension of the Library Parcel Tax, approved by 81 percent of San José voters in 2014. The revenue meant millions in funding, stabilizing and insuring sustained library service. Growth and innovation followed with general fund support from the city. With funding secured, Bourne worked with the mayor and city council and, in July 2015, secured a 39 percent increase in library hours.
“Of course library use was in serious decline,” says Bourne about that time. “The staff were all scared. There had been layoffs, and the place was in this awful kind of holding pattern. They had finished that beautiful capital program, but they couldn’t open the resulting new and renovated libraries.”
In Bourne’s first year, SJPL managed to open the four closed branches based on the city’s commitment to funding. “It was clear that [city leaders] wanted to get the libraries back to some more adequate level of service,” Bourne remembers. Now all branch libraries are open six days a week.
San José mayor Sam Liccardo credits Bourne with leading an impressive comeback and also with advancing San José libraries. “Jill’s leadership has truly moved our libraries forward,” he says. “Today, branch libraries provide a range of services to our residents that they never had before, including free lunches in the summer, coding classes, Maker spaces, and citizenship workshops.”
To enable those new services, Bourne built relationships with Silicon Valley tech companies and organizations (including eBay, PayPal, and Microsoft) to enhance public access to technology and applied learning through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) education and Maker programs. Bourne also led the creation of TeenHQ, a new center that offers learning tools, such as a Maker space and a recording studio funded by Microsoft, and serves as a nexus to connect teens to the full range of services. In December 2016, Bourne’s vision to bring STEAM programming to all corners of San José became a reality with the launch of the Maker[Space]Ship, a state-of-the-art mobile Maker space that will travel to branches, schools, after-school programs, senior centers, affordable housing, early childhood caregivers, and other outreach sites.
Fines, fees, and volunteers
Bourne told city leaders that SJPL’s fine and fee structure was having the effect of denying access to thousands of San José residents, particularly in communities most in need of library services. Around the same time the budget was cut, the council had increased fines until they were double, even triple, what other libraries charged.
“People just stopped coming to the library,” says Bourne. “There were 189,000 people blocked from library access because of their debt to SJPL.” After a year of hard work, Bourne garnered “total support” from the council for “a total revision of all the fines,” plus “programs…that would help people to get their debt to the library eliminated.”
These go far beyond the more common food for fines or short-term amnesty, also fostering engagement with renewed patrons. Patrons can work as volunteers (SJPL pays $20 an hour against fines). Bourne collaborated with labor unions, the city council, and San José leaders to work out this solution. Two staffers are dedicated to the volunteer program, which is structured to hold special events, so that dozens of volunteers work together. “They’re so excited to get back to the library, it’s like a social event,” says Bourne. Since the implementation of the access programs, in July 2016, “these efforts have already led to restored accounts for nearly 100,000 residents,” recalls San José City Council member Raul Peralez.
Bourne’s systematic approach and deep community engagement drew praise from her colleagues in city government. “She uses data, measurement, and analysis to improve the quality and scope of services, build the case for appropriate resources and attract community support, and report outcomes to the people of San José, our elected officials, and library staff,” writes San José city manager Norberto Duenas.
Perhaps because of this approach, last September Duenas dramatically expanded Bourne’s role beyond the library’s walls, designating her as senior staff lead in developing a citywide Education and Digital Literacy Initiative. This new opportunity to lead change around one of the library’s core missions came about in June, around the same time that Bourne decided to remain in San José, turning down an offer to direct the Boston Public Library in the wake of previous president Amy Ryan’s resignation.
In her three-and-a-half-year tenure, Bourne has had oversight of a department budget of $54 million and more than 700 staffers. She implemented an extensive audit of SJPL operations and efficiencies, hired 100 staff in three months, and managed the partnership with San José State University for operation of the shared Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library. (The dual facility garnered LJ’s Library of the Year honors in 2004.) She also served as a Knight Foundation advisor on reimagining public libraries and represented public libraries at the 2014 Aspen Institute Forum on Communication and Society.
Learning in Seattle
These achievements rest on a solid foundation of experience. “I’m really lucky because I cut my teeth at the Seattle Public Library and got an early experience of what it is like to do a huge funding measure,” says Bourne. She went on to head Seattle’s new Central Library and serve as assistant director to then Director Deborah Jacobs, LJ’s 1994 Librarian of the Year, who became her mentor. Bourne was in Seattle during the decade of what she called “insane growth.”
“I learned from just being in the trenches with Jacobs and Jill Jean…. At the time, I didn’t know enough to be afraid,” Bourne admits. “Now I’m not comfortable if I’m not moving things ahead.”
It was also in Seattle that Bourne met Brian Bannon, now commissioner and CEO of the Chicago Public Library, when they worked in the branches together. She went on to be director of the main library, while Bannon was a branch manager overseeing several facilities.
Eventually, Bannon moved from Seattle to the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). Six months later, Bourne followed. “When I was a student worker in Seattle, Jill modeled how to be a great librarian. When she became my boss in San Francisco, she became my mentor and close friend. Now as an urban library leader, she continues to teach us how to lead and strategically place libraries at the center of our communities,” Bannon concludes. (Both were named LJ Movers & Shakers in 2009.)
San Francisco story
As deputy city librarian at SFPL, Bourne reported to City Librarian Luis Herrera, LJ’s 2012 Librarian of the Year. For more than six years, Bourne supported Herrera in all aspects of library management. She directed activities and operations of the main library, 27 branches, community programs and partnerships, and collections and technical services. She also led implementation of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)/MacArthur Foundation grant for building Learning Labs in Libraries and was a member of the Branch Library Improvement Program (BLIP) executive team, overseeing projects, community engagement, budgets, and schedules for a 24-branch building program.
While in San Francisco, Bourne also wrote a new departmental Efficiency Plan and oversaw creation and tracking of a departmental performance measurement and results process. She managed SFPL’s departmental Language Access Plan and oversaw annual funding from the Friends and foundation of the SFPL, including development of grant/funding requests, partner outreach, regular reports, and evaluation processes. She implemented a Fine Amnesty project in 2009 and wrote local legislation to suspend patron fines; the program received the 2010 John Cotton Dana Award for a promotion featuring local celebrities sharing their best excuse for not returning a library book, including the pilot who made an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River in 2009—with his library book.
Bourne also worked to develop an award-winning environmental library initiative, Green Stacks, and managed a 13 percent increase in system operating hours at 16 branches.
From roots to branches
Bourne loved where she was. But, she says, “I knew I could do something in San José. I knew how to expand hours and how to build a case for the sustainability of an organization…. In San Francisco, I realized that you can be the best assistant director in the world, and they give you so much trust and responsibility, but you are still not the director. The buck doesn’t stop at your desk,” Bourne says. (She is currently recruiting for an assistant director at SJPL).
Bourne originally comes from Cooperstown, NY, where her family still lives. She was an undergraduate at New York University, then finished coursework for an English master’s at Boston College. While enrolled in that program, she was hired at the Newton Free Library as a circulation and reference assistant in the children’s library. Director Susan Raskin Abrams was her first library mentor.
“When she saw that I had the passion, she started educating me to the idea of library school and a library career,” Bourne remembers. She debated between getting her MLIS at local Simmons College or going to Seattle and eventually chose the iSchool at the University of Washington.
A quote from a letter of support by Peralez is the best way to sum up why Bourne is this year’s LJ Librarian of the Year:
With Jill’s leadership, I have seen the public library consistently develop inventive responses to meet the needs of our communities. Recognizing that many children experience food insecurity during the summer months, the library partnered with the Summer Meal Coalition to offer 17,000 lunches and health snacks to San José’s families. Recognizing the lack of resources for downtown youth, a new TeenHQ at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library was designed by local teens to meet a need for access to digital tools and a safe space to learn and connect. Most recently, recognizing the need for services for the library’s homeless customers, Jill worked with my office to identify partnerships that will provide a full-time social worker at the King Library, along with social work interns from San José State University. Not only will the collaboration offer on-site services, it will connect homeless individuals directly to housing and appropriate human services.
Mayor Liccardo adds, “Jill has served as a tireless community advocate, a responsible steward of our treasured library system, and a strong voice for innovation.”
The city as classroom
Bourne will no doubt bring those same virtues to her broader future role in the city’s infrastructure as head of San José’s Education and Digital Literacy Initiative. Because the city doesn’t have its own department of education—and does have 19 school districts managed by the county—a central role to coordinate the city’s educational efforts has been under discussion for a while, Bourne tells LJ. “The first task is not about doing a bunch of new stuff,” she explains. “It is about coordinating and leveraging all the work we already do. The big work we’re doing this first year is around making sure we have the right data to assess the impact.”
That’s an ambitious agenda in itself: assessing current educational programs provided by all municipal departments; identifying needs in partnership with a diverse set of stakeholders and industry leaders; evaluating relevant policy and data; and engaging possible opportunities for collaboration.
“A lot of it should be work we already wanted to do,” says Bourne. “We have talked about…start[ing] something new…as a small scale, prov[ing] the efficacy, and then look[ing] at resources to scale it larger.” Bourne’s new role has no new funding to support it, but she will be able to refocus existing resources where they’re most needed. She was able to hire a project manager to help support the library’s education work, a new position added in the budget last year.
The ultimate goal, according to the mayor’s office, is “re-envisioning our city as a classroom,” which will “ensure a more coherent ecosystem of learning that combines in-school, out-of-school, employer-based, and online learning experiences into a coordinated network that advances education goals equitably and inclusively.”
“It’s a huge goal,” says Bourne, “but it’s how I approach my library work anyway, and it’s just expanding it out.”