About Jim

The details of my personal life are incidental to my service to the American Library Association. But I am happy to share some highlights with you.

I am a Chicago native, born in the city November 11, 1950, and raised in Northbrook, a northern suburb about six miles inland from Lake Michigan. Mostly cornfields when my family moved there in 1955, Northbrook is now part of suburban sprawl that makes municipal boundaries all but meaningless except when it comes to matters such as public safety, school districts, and, of course, public libraries. I was fortunate that the Northbrook Public Library was only a one-mile bike ride from home. I made that ride frequently, usually pedaling faster on the way home so I could explore a new book. Although I cannot credit a librarian there with instilling a desire to join their profession, surely their good service helped me be open to the possibility in later years.

Reading was important in my family. During lunch on summer days my mother, a kindergarten teacher, would read to us from books my brother, my sister, and I borrowed from the library. Other kids would vie for lunch invitations to our house. I remember having to give reports at the dinner table on books I read for school. My brother set himself to the task of reading from A through Z every article in the Britannica Junior Encyclopaedia a dear aunt had given us. I don’t think he finished.

Its lakefront is one of Chicago’s glories. In Evanston and Chicago’s other northern lakefront suburbs wonderful public parks punctuate miles of grand houses and gated mansions. Those parks gave people like me opportunities to enjoy Lake Michigan’s majesty. One early spring day during my junior year of high school I drove past some of those mansions, noting the fences and bushes hiding them from view of passersby. The next day in English class the teacher introduced us to Carl Sandburg’s poems. One was “A Fence,” from his 1916 Chicago Poems. Sandburg describes a new house’s fence made of “iron bars” with “steel points that can stab the life out of any man who falls on them” but through and over which nothing can pass “except Death and the Rain and Tomorrow.” This was more vivid to me than the real thing I had seen the day before. It was an epiphany. I awoke to the power of the English language to evoke images, stir the imagination, and touch others. Of course, I then wanted to be a poet. I am fairly certain that none of my jejune and truly prosaic efforts in poetry survive. Our library collections are none the poorer for their absence.

That experience set my course to major in English in college and that led to a master’s degree in English with intentions to go on for a Ph.D. and a career in the professoriate. Various factors led me to rethink that course. I shifted direction and earned my master of arts in library science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. More on that path in the career highlights section of this Web site.

Monica, my wife, has taught elementary grades and special education for more than three decades. We have been married since 1973 and have three children. Chris, our older daughter, is married to Garrett Bowhall, the graphic designer who designed this Web site. Chris teaches high school history, sociology, and anthropology in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.  They are expecting thier first child in mid-April 2009. Tony works in the financial services industry for a small start-up company in Baltimore. He is engaged to be married to Katie Higdon of Baltimore. Their wedding will take place June 20, 2009. Katie, our youngest, graduated from Fordham University in May of 2008. Several weeks later she started a job as an e-marketing associate with Agora, Inc., in Baltimore. It publishes online newsletters on finance and alternative health care.

We have lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, since 1988. The nest is empty most of the time except for Halla, our lively, gorgeous Norwegian Forest cat.  Athena, our beautiful Maine Coon cat, succumbed to kidney disease December 22, 2008.  [Halla also succumbed to kidney failure, December 1, 2010.]

My recreational interests include travel, the oh-so-librarian but so-very-valued reading (but of course!), and cooking. Favorite authors include John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, J. M. Coetze, Anne Fadiman, Ian McEwen, Parker Palmer, Nuala O'Faolain, Richard Russo, Kay Redfield Jamison, Charles Dickens, John Keats, William Shakespeare, and Kinky Friedman. Most of my favorite recipes begin with wild salmon.