Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed a new head librarian for the city's public library system today: John Szabo, who has run the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System since 2005.
Librarian union president Roy Stone doesn't know much about Szabo, but he's sorry to see L.A. City Librarian Martin Gomez leave for a job with USC. “[Gomez] did a lot of good,” Stone says, “and he wanted to do things, but he wasn't around long enough.”
Gomez, in fact, was widely respected across the country as an innovative and top-notch leader. So what will Szabo bring to the table?
First off, Szabo was president of a much smaller system. In Atlanta, he operated 34 branch libraries. Los Angeles has 72.
Additionally, Szabo notes in a 2012 opinion piece that Atlanta libraries have annual visits of 3.5 million. In Los Angeles, public libraries are way more busy, with 17 million visits annually.
Union boss Roy Stone says Szabo's background may be a “bit of a concern.”
“He's going to have to deal with learning everything and how things are done in a much bigger system,” says Stone. “That's not to say that can't be done, but he'll have his work cut out for him.”
So will Szabo have the skills and talent to lead one of the largest public library systems in the United States?
Judging from his opinion piece, he certainly has big ideas. In Atlanta, he expanded a GED program to help more people get a high school diploma and worked closely with city government to help unemployed people draft and send out resumes to prospective employers.
“There is a fundamental passion we in libraries have,” writes Szabo. “We are not a peripheral player but help solve big issues. Our patrons expect it of us, demand it of us, and we do it with the resources we have — now more than ever.”
Stone offers a tip to his incoming boss.
“We need someone to learn about our system,” says Stone, who's been working in the Los Angeles Public Library system since 1974, “and to be dedicated to the best service. We need someone to have concern for the staff. To not just say, 'I want to do things a certain way and that's that.' We need someone to first learn about the system and understand us and what we do.”
Interestingly, Szabo will be the third city librarian during Villaraigosa's seven years in office. That kind of turnover is not normal for the library system.
Between 1974 and 2004, there had only been three city librarians in Los Angeles for that entire 30-year period.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.