Alumni Feature – Amanda Jackson (MLIS ’03)

This month, SLIS alumna Amanda Jackson was interviewed as our first monthly alumni web feature. She graduated in 2003 and her area of focus was management/administration. When asked why she chose that specific area, Jackson said it was about, “knowing myself, and knowing strengths and weaknesses.” She cited her skills to manage responsibilities, as well as her power to advocate and change things. Jackson currently works as the Director of the Chesapeake Library System in Chesapeake, Virginia. They have seven branch locations and serve nearly a quarter of a million people. Some of the responsibilities she has are managing budgets, strategic planning, city management, but those change nearly every day.

It is no secret that the world is in a current state of crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. When asked how COVID-19 has impacted the services her library system provides, Jackson firmly stated, “The pandemic really was the defining point where the library determined what it was going to be.” Prompted to explain further, Jackson said that the library is meant to serve the community – even calling it the heartbeat – and that the library is meant to uphold and promote democracy. Through the actions carried out by Jackson, she wanted to show the community the value of the institution. However, as an administrator, she cited the need for balance in her workplace. “Number one, I need to take care of my people. Number two, I have to identify the vitality [of the library] to the community and put value on library services.” The coronavirus made the library system ask themselves what they needed to do to remain engaged and relevant to the community. As far as specific measures, her library system started offering curbside service, a feature not uncommon with many businesses since the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, Jackson was keenly aware of the PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage and immediately saw an opportunity to help the community she serves. More than 4,000 masks were sewn, as well as 100 gowns for first responders with sewing machines that had been purchased for sewing classes pre-pandemic. Her staff used those machines, as well as ones brought from home, to supply the approximate 5,000 city employees of the City of Chesapeake so they could return to work safely. The libraries were also utilized as absentee and early voting sites for the presidential election. While other libraries in the area shut down, Jackson and her team saw the needs of the community they serve and have worked ferociously to meet those needs.

Amanda was asked “If you could come back to UA and take any class, what would it be and why?” Surprisingly, she said she would probably not take an LS (library science) class, but rather a business class, such as accounting or business economics. She has considered getting a second master’s in public administration or in business, as the position she has now as the Director of the Chesapeake Library System frequently calls on the skills and jargon from those areas of study. She said if she could offer one piece of advice to current or prospective students, it would be “know yourself – know your strengths. The library world is huge! Figure out what you love to do and find a space for that. Libraries are always evolving.” Jackson also said that sometimes you need to be innovative to enact changes or to make a space to do what you love. She pressed further and said she had originally never wanted to be a librarian, as her mother was one. The semester of her graduation, she was greatly second-guessing herself regarding choosing library science, but after working in the field for so long she said that she would not have chosen anything else. One of the programs that Amanda has created is through working with local jails to create a short stories program. Essentially, the inmates are recorded reading children’s stories, and those recordings are mailed to their children. Jackson said that the program has been wildly successful and made a substantial impact on the lives of the inmates and their families.

The last question that was asked of Amanda was “Which ALA Core Value most inspires the work you do?” She pondered and responded confidently, “Equity.” Jackson firmly believes that equity is a massive piece of the commitment to diversity and inclusion. She further explained that for upper- and middle-class families, the library is a different place for them but that the library is the great equalizer for all who enter through its doors. “I don’t have a vision [for the library], but my mission is to make sure there is a space for the poor mother, the young man with intellectual disabilities, and the refugee seeking asylum. It is vital to show disenfranchised individuals that they have a space where their voices can be heard.”

At SLIS, we are extremely proud to have an alumnus that represents our program so well. Congratulations on all your success Amanda, and we wish you the very best through these ever-changing times!

Note: These features, and most SLIS new items, are being written by Elizabeth Meads, MLIS student, with assistance from Dr. Yates.