Interview with Advisory Board Member Jack Martin by Cohort Member Anne Kilkenny

When 13- year- old Jack Martin began as a library volunteer in Georgia, he had not pictured himself on a journey to the office of Executive Director of Providence Public Library. In fact, he was not sure he was going to like library work at all. After spending time filing cards in the card catalog, shelving and repairing books, Jack discovered that he had a passion for helping people and sharing his love for books.

Through his years at The University of Georgia and into the early 2000’s, Jack continued his work in public libraries, in Georgia and then in Providence, where he first worked at Providence Public Library in the Art and Music Department and in the branches as a Children’s Specialist. During this time, he found that he worked well with teens. He established some strong programs that began to draw more teens into the library.

A position as a Young Adult Services trainer put Jack in the middle of the robust Young Adult department at New York Public Library. There were wonderful training opportunities and lots of programming. Jack thrived at “Teen Central”, the Teen Room at the Manhattan Central Library, coordinating book discussions, author and publisher visits and providing personal book recommendations, his favorite part of the job.

Completing his MLIS at Pratt, Jack continued to grow in his positions in the YA department, establishing a huge Urban Fiction collection, the Anti - Prom and offering the first coding workshop. This program launched other technology driven programming including video game design, science challenges and NYC Haunts, a geo-locative alternative reality game combining ghosts and city history.

Eventually, Jack’s path took him to Global Kids as Associate Director of Online Leadership. This human rights organization focuses on building middle school and high school students as global citizens through social and digital media and digital badging.

Fortunately, for Providence Public Library, his love for libraries and their work brought Jack back to Rhode Island as Executive Director.

When asked about how libraries transforming and contributing to society in the 21st century he stressed that, in general, people will always love and need physical books and people will come to the library for materials. His favorite and most powerful interaction as a librarian has always been the peer-to-peer book recommendation. It is a great way to connect with others and reaches across ages. Looking at the 21st century, “people are using libraries for different reasons today such as internet access, work and study spaces and information centers” says Martin. “Providing accessibility continues to be a crucial service of libraries as does providing reliable information. Traditional reference has become more digitally driven and, with the breadth of information available all the time, it is important that libraries and librarians act as mentors for media literacy and digital citizenship.” Providence Public focuses on education - creating actual classes and courses for all ages that lead to outcomes such as resume building, new skills and employment. “Libraries have to be flexible and nimble in order to keep up with the changes happening today“ he states. It is crucial to position themselves properly, pilot programs and to embrace technology in thoughtful and deliberate ways.

“Providence Public Library faces the greatest challenge around financial issues but this varies from city to city,” states Mr. Martin. Some libraries have other challenges centered around other issues. Martin also feels that today’s librarians are serving more and more as mentors, facilitators and teachers, roles for which they may not have been trained or in which they may not feel comfortable. It is important that directors and administration teams support employees as they step into these roles and that they hire talent as well. Library schools should ensure that graduates are receiving training in these areas as well.

The future of technology and media in libraries is constantly changing. People use it as a way to get information and as a means to accomplish something. Makerspaces continue to grow and advance while mobile technology and geo-locative functions are trending and virtual reality is gaining some popularity. How these will play out on the canvas of libraries is evolving as patrons seek new pathways to information and libraries pilot new programs and resources.

Mr. Martin’s journey from library volunteer to Executive Director has encompassed a time of huge growth in the use and availability of technology and digital media in society. Libraries continue to provide access to resources and information but must demonstrate agility and flexibility in order to meet these needs in the 21st century. Serving as centers for learning and building skills libraries contribute to developing a healthy, stable workforce. Supporting the media literacy of patrons, libraries continue their work as literacy mentors but now the media is more than just books, much more. People will always want information and books. Libraries will continue to provide what the patrons need.