Skip to content

Jim Rettig
University Librarian, University of Richmond
President-Elect, American Library Association

No matter what position one holds, we are responsible for carrying out our organization’s mission and serving its community. No one of us can do that alone; our successes are always collective efforts.

How do you describe what you do as a librarian to your family or to people at a party?
As I librarian I help people make connections-connections between their interests and the world of information, connections between their needs and information that can meet those needs, connections with the knowledge that a community depends upon for its growth and advancement, connections among people in that community and with people in other communities, connections with human creations that stimulate the imagination and inspire wonder. I do this with my library worker colleagues by providing pertinent collections and services and a zone where any and all enjoy unfettered access to explore the world of knowledge and the universe of information by following whatever paths they choose.

The short answer is that I help people solve problems and improve their lives through access to information.

What special projects, initiatives or committees have you been or are involved in? How did you first get involved? What experiences in ALA have been the most rewarding?
The special project I am currently involved with is preparing to serve as the American Library Association’s president for the 2008-09 term. I anticipate a very rewarding experience. Who else in a single year gets to meet so many ALA members from so many different parts of the country to hear about their concerns and aspirations?

Prior to this my most rewarding experiences have been serving as a division president (RUSA, then RASD) in 1992-93 and as chair of ALA’s Committee on Organization (COO) in 2000-03. During that period COO proposed and the ALA Council approved a number of enabling policies that, even though some today choose to interpret them as restrictive, expanded opportunities for committees and boards to conduct business electronically and to include virtual members. COO did a balancing act among pertinent provisions of ALA bylaws and policies, the rules of our parliamentary manual, and strongly expressed contradictory views of ALA members.

What advice would you give to up and coming librarians?
Think and act beyond your job’s hours and duties. Clearly identify your talents and interests and put them to work for yourself and for librarianship. Look for ways to make a wider contribution to our profession. Learn to say “Yes!” to invitations to participate in a project, make a presentation, write an article, review a book, etc. You’ll expand your experience and develop a reputation as a dependable colleague who fulfills commitments.

What do you think are the top three issues facing librarianship (positive or negative) that could change the course of things? If we want to try to change that course, how should we go about it?
The ACRL Board asked me this question last year and published my answer in College & Research Libraries News. Then, as now, I wrote: “The top three challenges librarianship faces are recruitment, retention, and participation. The first two of these are clearly challenges; the third has great potential to be a solution.” With a very creative and energetic advisory committee I have been developing a set of initiatives for my ALA presidential year. Most of these are designed to expand opportunities through which members can benefit from and contribute to ALA. A number of these are electronic, but not all of them.

An overarching challenge, one that has been with us at least since ALA’s founding in 1876 and will be with us for some time to come is communicating and demonstrating to our communities the benefits our libraries offer them. If we can attract their attention long enough to engage them, we can get them hooked on their libraries and, in time, count on many of them to develop not only into regular, frequent users, but also advocates for their libraries.

Tell us from your own experience, what is the most valuable lesson you have learned in your leadership roles?
No matter what position one holds, we are responsible for carrying out our organization’s mission and serving its community. No one of us can do that alone; our successes are always collective efforts.

What values (personal traits or characteristics) do you look for and admire in a leader?
The same characteristics I look for and admire in anyone-integrity, honesty, talent, commitment, initiative, creativity, and more (including a sense of humor).

What or who influenced you to become a librarian?
While working on my master’s degree in English I took a required one-credit course on bibliographic resources and research methods in English and American literature. I realized I had a knack for remembering the characteristics of the fields’ specialized reference books and the relationships among them. As a teaching assistant I enjoyed the one-to-one work with students. Put those together and you have a job description for the reference librarian of that day. These factors and the dismal job market for PhDs in the humanities in the mid-1970s prompted me to explore librarianship. After I finished that degree I switched paths to librarianship. I am glad that I took the road I took rather than the road not taken.

If you could do anything in your career differently, what would that be and why?
Surely with more time and greater introspection and reflection I would be able to give a better answer to this question. This profession has been very good to me and I hope that I have made a positive contribution to it.

What are the top things being taught in library school that you think are critical?
I’ll name four things I learned in library school that I consider critically important in every librarian’s education. In 2006 I had the pleasure of returning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies to speak to that year’s graduates. One of the things I told them, reflecting on my experience there 30 years earlier was that “I learned and absorbed our profession’s fundamental principles, its values, its ethics, its commitment to others.” Those four lessons have served me well throughout my career.