February 17, 2018

Anne Coriston | Movers & Shakers 2003

Where Politics and Libraries Meet

In 1983, when Queen Elizabeth was touring San Francisco, the San Francisco Girls Chorus helped Mary Martin serenade the queen with “Getting To Know You.” Anne Coriston was part of that group, which had earlier been invited to sing at the White House. In a sense, Coriston’s life since then has been a matter of getting to know politicians – a practice she recommends to all librarians.

Fresh out of college with a political science degree, Coriston became a fundraising consultant for several New York political figures. She organized fundraisers, produced campaign literature, and developed relationships with community groups, unions, lobbyists, and public officials. Later, as chief of staff for New York City Council member Kathryn Freed, she began making speaking engagements and doing budget briefings and community outreach on Freed’s behalf, assuming responsibility for developing Freed’s legislative agenda.

By the time the New York Public Library (NYPL) asked her to direct its Office of Government and Community Affairs, Coriston was richly prepared with a wealth of contacts in government and community organizations, an understanding of how government budgets get allocated, and experience organizing effective grass-roots campaigns.

Coriston knows that the secret to getting funding is simply being there at every single community board meeting, whether to seek support for particular initiatives, hand out flyers for upcoming events, or tell people about helpful library resources. She says it’s not necessary for people to know your name, as long as they look at you and say, “That’s the library lady.”

Better still, Coriston understands how libraries can help politicians. They offer wonderful PR opportunities – “Come read to the children, or lead a computer training class or a book discussion; we’ll take pictures, send out a press release, and give you copies of the photos.”

While library directors use statistics to document the excellence of their services, Coriston suggests that in politics stories work better: pols may forget the numbers, but they won’t forget the child who confides that the librarian is her best friend; they may forget that annual library attendance in New York City is 40 million, but they won’t forget that that is higher than attendance at all the city’s cultural institutions and sports team events combined.

Coriston especially loves this job because NYPL is such an easy sell – “last year we generated over 17,000 letters to the mayor and city council in support of keeping libraries open.” She’s still getting to know all the branch libraries, still exploring – and being amazed at – the library’s many research collections. She’s not managing an opera company, as she once daydreamed about, but telling the story of one of the world’s premier cultural institutions, and helping it survive, is every bit as good.


Current Position: Director of the Office of Government and Community Affairs, New York Public Library

Degrees: MLS anticipated, Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, 2004