Deb Robertson announces retirement as ALA Public Programs Office director

For Immediate Release
Wed, 09/29/2021


Sarah Ostman

Deputy Director

ALA Public Programs Office

Deb Robertson, founding director of the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office, will retire from the organization on October 8, 2021, after nearly 40 years of service.

Robertson founded the Public Programs Office in 1992 to empower libraries to create vibrant hubs of learning, conversation, and connection through library programming. Under her leadership, the office has supported thousands of libraries with grants, program models, materials, and professional development. Among the most familiar are Let’s Talk About It reading and discussion programs, Live at Your Library writer and artist programming, and a traveling exhibition program in collaboration with major museums and national libraries.

Over the years, she raised more than $30 million to fund library programming initiatives while supporting ALA’s strategic goals. She forged countless internal and external partnerships, ranging from foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the John and James L. Knight Foundation, to institutions including the Smithsonian, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and Tribeca Films to name. Over the course of her career, Robertson elevated the visibility of libraries and the Association in the philanthropic world.

“I have the greatest respect for the work of the American Library Association — its members and staff, partners and allies — and the impact those efforts have in so many ways,” Robertson said. “My colleagues have always given the utmost care and creativity to making libraries more effective for communities. I am grateful to have served ALA and proud of the integrity and success of this organization.” 

ALA Executive Director Tracie Hall said, “Deb’s impact and tenure at ALA leave an indelible impression. Her vision for public programming in libraries has catalyzed the field. Even after nearly four decades, Deb’s ideas are always forward-looking. Though she will be missed, she leaves the office that she shaped in as strong a position as it has ever been.”

In 2004 Robertson spearheaded a $1.4 million endowment campaign for the ALA Cultural Communities Fund ( with a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities; the endowment has since grown to $3.2 million. The fund supports excellence and innovation in community-focused library programming through grants, awards, and professional development, and helps to fund the Libraries Transform Communities Engagement Grant, Peggy Barber Tribute Grant, and the Sara Jaffarian Library Program Award. She also launched development of ALA’s Programming Librarian website (, an online resource center for cultural programming for all types and sizes of libraries, and is the author of the book “Cultural Programming for Libraries,” published by ALA.

“Deb’s boundless passion for libraries, deep knowledge of the philanthropic community, and exceptional dedication to ALA have benefited the Association tremendously,” said Mimosa Shah, chair of ALA’s Public and Cultural Programs Advisory Committee, which advises the Public Programs Office. “She has been a positive, kind bridge between the Association and the field at large. We are deeply grateful for her years of service and wish her all the best in the future endeavors.”

Prior to founding the Public Programs Office, Robertson worked in publishing and public relations at ALA.

In retirement, Robertson plans to devote more time and energy to her boutique literary fiction publishing house, Gibson House Press, as well as travel and spending time with family and friends.

Melanie Welch, deputy director in the Public Programs Office, will serve as interim director.

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice for academic, public, school, government, and special libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit

About ALA’s Public Programs Office

The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office empowers libraries to create vibrant hubs of learning, conversation and connection in communities of all types. Learn more at