Deborah Jacobs wins 2019 John Ames Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award

For Immediate Release
Fri, 04/12/2019


Delin Guerra

Program Officer

International Relations Office

CHICAGO — Deborah Jacobs, former director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries initiative, has been named the 2019 recipient of the American Library Association (ALA) International Relations Committee’s John Ames Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award, presented to a librarian or person who has made significant contributions to international librarianship.

The award, sponsored by OCLC/Forest Press, consists of $1,000 and a plaque to be presented at the International Librarians Reception on Monday, June 24, at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. OCLC/Forest Press donated the cash award.

Jacobs has been working with librarians from around the world for over 20 years. While serving as the Seattle City Librarian, Jacobs, was one of the founding members of the Public Libraries International Network (PLIN). This program was designed to bring together a diverse group of emerging library leaders from developed and developing countries and provide them with the platform and tools they needed to learn, explore new ideas, and develop lasting relationships.

Jacobs recognized the value of the INELI program and, through the foundation, provided seed money to establish at least ten regional INELIs around the world. Several of these regional INELIs are continuing with funds from other sources. As a further example of the impact of the Global INELI, 50% of the Global INELI participants have been involved in establishing or supporting one or more of the regional INELIs.

As Chief Librarian at the Seattle Public Library, Jacobs’s work is well known and widely admired. Her global vision was reflected in the building of the main library in Seattle. In its first year, library usage was more than double the predicted volume and 2.3 million people came to visit, 30% from outside Seattle. The library generated $16 million in new economic activity for the city in its first year and soon became one of the seminal buildings of the early 2000s. Jacobs’s leadership resulted in a very successful bridging of her global vision and her local vision, creating a world renown library that meets the needs of the Seattle community.

During Jacobs ten-year tenure as director of the Global Initiatives at the Bill & Gates Foundation (BMGF), Jacobs was responsible for overseeing the distribution of millions of dollars to libraries and led projects to support public library development in over fifty countries. While her job was international in scope, it was her deep commitment to working in different regions of the world and her vision to work across cultures that made it possible to ensuring that libraries are true community assets and engines of development.

The Global Libraries program under Jacobs’ leadership also worked with the Public Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations to help them move into more prominent leadership roles as the Gates Foundation ends it work with Global Libraries. While Global Libraries has accomplished a great deal, Jacobs knew that it was essential to support strong library associations to continue their work. Through her leadership Global Libraries has left the profession stronger and ready to continue to support the important mission of public libraries. The Humphry/OCLC/Forest Press Award committee members remarked: "Ms. Deborah Jacobs's rich and extensive experience in international librarianship makes her the most deserving candidate for the Humphry Award this year. Her extraordinary contributions range widely from being a visionary leader in community engagement, to a strong advocate for library development in third world countries, and an outstanding innovator in providing library services around the globe. Her work, as the nomination letter states,  "has been a catalyst for significant and ongoing change in the quality, reach, role and sustainability of libraries around world."