Today is Karen Archer Perry’s last day at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Formally, she is a senior program officer at the Foundation, responsible for overseeing various grants in the Global Libraries Program. Less formally, we see her as an energetic, caring, committed thought partner and insightful strategist for the national library community. On behalf of the American Library Association (ALA) and several other leading members of the library community, we want to thank Karen for her service to the library field and wish her the best in her future endeavors—which we hope will include libraries.
“Given Karen’s impact on the library community, no one person can really do justice to a proper thank you,” said Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the ALA Washington Office. “So we thought that we would collect thoughts from several of us and publish them together. As for me, I admire her determination in pushing for new opportunities for libraries with federal agencies.”
“Karen’s enthusiasm and energy for her work with and for libraries is palpable—and contagious,” said Larra Clark, Program Director at ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). “It has been a pleasure to share this fever and work together for libraries. Karen has brought creativity, deep knowledge, and ambition to her collaborations. I deeply appreciate these qualities and how it has made my own work better and stronger.”
From Alan S. Inouye, OITP Director: “I think of Karen as the ‘connecting the dots person.’ Actually, we have few such people in the library community at the national level. In some respects, it is not surprising. Most people must focus on running their library, applying for E-rate, interpreting copyright law and licensing agreements, or developing new online applications. Few of us think about and understand how each piece relates to each other and to pieces outside of the library community—much less do it strategically and effectively. In a time of fundamental change, like the present, the field really needs people to connect the dots. This is Karen’s substantive contribution that I will miss the most, though perhaps Karen will be able to engage with libraries in her future endeavors. I sure hope so, as we need every national and policy strategist that we can find!”
“Karen started out as the program officer for our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) support grant from the Foundation, but quickly grew to be much more than that,” said Ann Joslin, Idaho State Librarian and President, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA). “A conversation with her at the 2012 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas started changing my view of potential roles for COSLA. That was followed by her encouragement and support for the Public Access Technology Community (PAT-C) project, coordinating meetings of state library agency people with key Federal Communications Commission teams, introducing COSLA members to others in the philanthropic arena who have interests in common with COSLA, and taking a lead role in the Foundation’s Bold Visions convening held at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim. In short, Karen’s support and advocacy helped bring COSLA to a crossroads with the 18-month expansion of the PAT-C project and an organizational planning process. And she’s a heck of a lot of fun to work with!”
Susan McVey, Director, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, observes that “I have many ‘Karenisms,’ but one of my favorites is in reference to allowing space for a discussion on the challenges in implementing BTOP grants was to describe it as ‘coming to a meeting without your makeup on.’ That kind of permission to recognize both sides of a situation is all too rare and important. She is a force of nature and accomplished so much while she was with us. I will miss her!”
Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, notes that Karen “is the best kind of advocate and overseer of grants like the one the Gates Foundation has given Pew Internet: She has been assertive when that was the requirement; deferential when we needed to seize the bit; creative in working through challenges; supportive when mystery fogged the windshield; patient when we had to wait for data to be collected; trusting and open-minded when we pitched new ideas; a great translator when others had to be told who we were and what we were doing; a quick and deep study of our material when she had to master it and describe it to others; collaborative always; haughty never (a special feat when the words ‘Bill & Melinda Gates’ are connected to your job). Above all, Karen’s special talent is her ‘brightness’ in all senses of that word. She clearly is really smart. Just as important, she’s a light shiner and pathway forger. It’s a wonderful combination of traits that make journeys with her fun. If we’re lucky, we’ll have more of them.”
“Karen’s departure from the Gates Foundation is a hard pill to swallow,” said John Windhausen, Executive Director, Schools, Health, & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition. “She combines an ‘on-the-ground’ feel for how libraries serve their communities with a great strategic vision of how libraries can expand their future role in a world of tumultuous technological change. Her creativity and thoughtfulness have been enormously helpful, and you can see that her work is driven by a passion for helping people and communities.”