June 18, 2018

Ghikas, What ALA Needs: The Perfect Model for the Search Committee | Blatant Berry

The Executive Board of the American Library Association (ALA) recently appointed Mary Ghikas ALA executive director (ED) through January 2020. Ghikas has been interim ED since last August 2017, when previous ED Keith Fiels retired. Before that she was senior associate ED of member programs and services.

After my last column (“A Librarian Must Lead ALA”), the news was deeply reassuring. I’ve known Ghikas for decades. She is an impressive, even imposing presence at any gathering and has been a key leader at ALA since 1995.

I remember when one of the several EDs under whom she served was first appointed. He telephoned me to say, “Mary has more than a dozen direct reports; I’ll begin with only two and she is one of them. What would you do about that?” I said I had no advice for him. In the end, he didn’t change the situation much.

Mary Ghikas is not just a strong and unifying force, she can carry a huge workload without complaint, capabilities few of us possess. She has proven, repeatedly, that she can handle any problem or issue we send in her direction and tend to it in her quiet way, delivering a fix that not only works but makes those on the receiving end very happy.

My admiration for Ghikas has grown tremendously over the years as I watched her progress through positions at the Chicago Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library, New York Library Resources Council, U.S. Book Exchange in Washington, DC, and two sterling decades at ALA. I also got to know her socially and watched her work her magic at conferences and other events for more than 20 years.

It has been obvious to me that Mary Ghikas is the glue that holds together ALA’s diverse and disparate divisions and interest groups. Those gangs have frequently been at odds with one another over organizational rivalries and real issues alike. ALA president Jim Neal put it this way: “Mary provides knowledge, experience, and stability to the association…as she leads critical work in infrastructure, organizational development, and technology for ALA.”

Dozens of librarians have told me of unemotional interactions with Ghikas over concerns with the association that ranged from fundamental values to minor matters of process. No one ever had an argument with Mary, but everyone always got a concrete solution.

That all means she is a very important and much needed unifying presence at ALA, a tremendously productive leader, and a solid and stolid friend to librarians.

The search process for the next ALA ED will begin again in spring 2019, after the current debate over the requirements for the position description is finished (see also “ALA Full Membership to Vote on Executive Director Qualifications”). Mary Ghikas is proof that an experienced, credentialed librarian can and should be appointed ALA ED (she earned her MLS at UCLA). She will preside over ALA for two more years, beginning immediately. After its fall meeting in October 2019, the Executive Board will name a new ED who will assume the mantle at the 2020 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.

For those in charge of that search as a model against which to judge candidates, Mary Ghikas is the best choice. She is the prime example of great leadership at ALA, often overlooked and never seeking the spotlight, standing staunchly in support of librarianship and the association. She is a library leader and administrator of tremendous talent, and I, for one, am delighted that she will watch over us during this crucial period.

This article was published in Library Journal's March 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.



  1. ” Mary Ghikas is proof that an experienced, credentialed librarian can and should be appointed ALA ED.”–

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