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2023 ULC Annual Forum Speakers


ULC’s 2023 Annual Forum — People, Power, Place: Today’s Urban Public Library — will charge members to explore and expand the future role and position of the public library in an ever-changing world.

For public library leaders, people, power and place are essential aspects that define their roles and responsibilities. Each element plays a significant role in shaping the library's mission, impact and community engagement. Forum programming will amplify these interconnected aspects that shape the leadership and impact of public libraries through thoughtful conversations, engaging activities, networking events and fireside chats.

Check back on this page, as speakers will continue to be announced in the leadup to the 2023 ULC Annual Forum!

Forum Speakers

    Brooks Rainwater 2022

    Brooks Rainwater

    President & CEO, Urban Libraries Council

    Brooks serves as President and CEO of the Urban Libraries Council, an outcomes-driven research and innovations network of more than 160 leading North American public libraries. Under his leadership, ULC champions the future of public libraries by engaging and uplifting members, focusing intently on equity and inclusion and leading on core policy issues that drive our communities forward. Throughout his career, Brooks has worked to advance urban policies that expand local democracy and provide funding for local programs related to economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and sustainability. Prior to joining ULC in July 2022, Brooks served as Senior Executive & Director, Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities where he drove the organization’s research agenda and oversaw technical assistance efforts and leadership education. Brooks holds a Master of Public Administration from The George Washington University and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Femi Adelakun

    Femi Adelakun

    Director of Research and Data, Urban Libraries Council

    Femi comes to ULC with extensive experience in weaving together leading-edge spatial science and policy design for the purpose of helping places and locations serve their residents and users better. Femi has a demonstrated history of developing and managing Location Intelligence systems in the private sector, and in government administration and city management.


    Brian Bannon

    Merryl and James Tisch Director, New York Public Library

    Brian Bannon is The New York Public Library’s first-ever Merryl and James Tisch Director. Bannon is the chief librarian responsible for directing NYPL’s 88 neighborhood branches, as well as the Library’s educational strategy. Most recently, Bannon was commissioner and chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Library, serving as chief library officer for one of the largest urban public library systems in the world. Bannon came to NYPL in 2019 with 20 years of experience in developing and implementing educational programs and leading large-scale operations that maximize impact for all citizens and contribute to a culture of learning, reading, and community learning. Before his successful tenure in Chicago, Bannon was Chief Information Officer at the San Francisco Public Library, and worked at the Seattle Public Library and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bannon received his bachelor of arts from Pacific Lutheran University and his master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Washington Information School.

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    Dr. Audrey Barbakoff

    Founder and CEO, Co/lab Capacity

    Dr. Audrey Barbakoff, EdD, MLIS is a passionate public library leader, consultant, speaker and author. Audrey believes that a public library is the heart of its community, and that community is at the heart of the library. She helps libraries and other social good organizations facilitate engaged learning that becomes the foundation for shared creativity and resilience. Audrey has over a decade of experience as a librarian and manager in public libraries, ranging from a tiny rural library in Connecticut to a 50-branch system in Washington state. Her innovative library work has been recognized by Library Journal Movers & Shakers, the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal "40 Under 40", the Freedom to Read Foundation and the Urban Libraries Council. Audrey holds a doctorate in organizational change and leadership. Her dissertation research focused on building capacity for equity, diversity, and inclusion in public libraries through community-led planning. It served as the foundation for her innovative CoLaB (Community Led Capacity-Building) process, soon to be featured in her forthcoming book Twelve Steps to a Community-Led Library.

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    Story Bellows

    Partner, Cityfi

    Story Bellows is one of the nation’s top civic innovators, works to turn urban challenges into people first solutions with positive outcomes for all. As a partner with Cityfi, Story is focused on organizational change management, civic engagement, and public-private coalition building. Before Cityfi, Story was the Chief Innovation and Performance Officer for Brooklyn Public Library, where she implemented a new organizational strategy across the institutions sixty-plus branches. She launched and directed the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Philadelphia, where she developed mechanisms for entrepreneurs to work with the city to tackle shared challenges. She has also served as Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative, where she was afforded the opportunity to work alongside more than 200 mayors nationwide. Based in New York, Story works with cities and companies across the country and, increasingly, globe. She has spoken and is recognized internationally as an expert on innovation in large public institutions. She is a graduate of Colgate University and holds an MSc from the London School of Economics in City Design and Social Science.

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    Chris Brown

    Commissioner, Chicago Public Library

    Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown is passionate about redefining what public libraries can bring to the communities they serve. This mission is particularly vital for CPL—its 81 locations make it one of the world’s largest library systems. Brown came to CPL in 2021 after more than a decade serving in Californian districts. Throughout his career, he has prioritized equity and the democratization of access to information, including nontraditional patrons and resources beyond traditional library materials. He is currently spearheading collaboration with neighborhood safety groups, City departments, and outside partners in order to establish safe spaces for youth. Such leadership has earned Brown national recognition. He was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2016 and has received the Urban Libraries Council Top Innovator Award, the California Library Association PRExcellence Award, and a John Cotton Dana Award from the American Library Association in both California and Illinois. Most recently, he served on the California Library Association Board.

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    Brenda Langstraat Bui

    President & CEO, Chicago Public Library Foundation

    Brenda Langstraat Bui joined the Chicago Public Library Foundation in 2019, her personal and professional values aligning with the Library’s commitment to “the freedom to read, to learn, to discover.” For more than 20 years, Brenda has led organizations in the public/private sector for parks, schools and libraries. She previously served as CEO of Working in the Schools (WITS), Chicago Public Schools’ largest literacy partner. Previous to WITS, Brenda was the CEO of Parkways Foundation, the philanthropic partner to the Chicago Park District, where she led fundraising initiatives that invested private dollars into capital and programmatic projects. Brenda started her career in the social impact sector at the Chicago Humanities Festival, where she oversaw major giving programs. She serves on the United for Libraries board of directors, a division of the American Library Association. Locally, Brenda serves on the Lookingglass Theater board of directors as an executive committee member and on the board of Quiet Pterodactyl, supporting music and arts.

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    Tom Fay

    Executive Director and Chief Librarian, The Seattle Public Library

    Tom Fay is the Executive Director and Chief Librarian of The Seattle Public Library. Since 2015, Fay served as the Library’s Director of Programs and Services, directing the Library’s Public Services and Programs, Collections, Materials Handling, and Information Technology departments at Seattle’s downtown Central Library and all 26 neighborhood branches. In April 2021, The Board appointed Fay to serve as Interim Chief Librarian, while the Board conducted a national search. He was appointed Chief Librarian in March 2022. As a native of southern Nevada, Fay’s 38-year career in libraries began as a page for the Las Vegas Clark County Library District. Prior to joining The Seattle Public Library as Director of Programs and Services in 2015, he held roles as the Executive Director of Henderson Libraries in Nevada and the Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of Las Vegas Clark County Library District in Nevada. Fay graduated with a Fine Arts degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He has been awarded the O’Callaghan Public Sector Person of the Year and selected as Nevada’s Librarian of the Year. Fay enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter in the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest.

    Grubbs Allison

    Allison Grubbs

    Director, Broward County Library

    Allison Grubbs is the Director of Broward County Library. She began serving Broward communities in 2019 when she was hired as Broward County Library’s Assistant Director, and since then has provided steadfast leadership through several challenges for the staff and local residents and visitors, especially with the onslaught of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. While Director, BCL has achieved momentous milestones that benefit Broward residents and visitors, such as going fine-free. Allison represents South Florida libraries in her work with the Florida Library Association, American Library Association, and the Urban Libraries Council. Previous to her roles in Broward, Allison worked in special and public libraries serving rural, suburban, and urban communities of all sizes throughout Washington and Georgia. She received her undergraduate degree in history at North Georgia College and State University (now University of North Georgia), and her Master of Library and Information Science at Valdosta State University. Allison’s love language is caffeine.

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    Michelle Hamiel

    Chief of Programs, Urban Libraries Council

    Michelle strengthens the urban library role in local ecosystems and advances partnerships and programs resulting in systemic change. She is known and respected throughout public libraries for her leadership to diversify the profession, to serve marginalized communities and to increase racial and social equity. Prior to joining ULC, Michelle served as Prince George's County Memorial Library System's chief operating officer and led the mission, vision, innovation and operations of the library's 19 branches and the county detention center.

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    Nick Higgins

    Chief Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library

    Nick Higgins is the Chief Librarian of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). In concert with other members of the senior management team, Nick leads the development of transformative library services and spaces for the residents of Brooklyn. In his previous role as Director of Outreach Services, Nick and his team created a suite of unique programs for older adults, individuals and families impacted by the justice system, immigrants, and people experiencing homelessness. Nick began his career in 2006 at BPL as a librarian trainee and worked in several branches, the Inclusive Services department, the Business & Career Library, and the Central Library. Nick also served for three years as the NYPL Correctional Library Supervisor, creating library services in the Rikers Island jail complex, and State and Federal Prisons. In 2017 Nick was named “Mover and Shaker” by Library Journal for building a citywide library-based video visiting service for kids with parents who were incarcerated. Nick and his team were recognized as "Librarian of the Year" from Library Journal for their work on Books Unbanned, a freedom to read initiative that provides free access to BPL's entire digital library collection for teens anywhere in the US facing book bans. Nick received an MLIS from the Pratt Institute and a BA in British Literature from Hunter College.

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    Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi

    Associate Professor of Information Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi is an Associate Professor of Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research focuses on the use and consequences of emergent digital technologies in shaping the future of work and organizations. His previous project explored flexible organizational contexts such as the gig economy, specifically the paradoxical roles of digital labor platforms in organizing and mediating work practices within these contexts. Since 2017, his work has delved into the transformation of knowledge work through the integration of AI. He articulated the concept of 'human-AI symbiosis' to explain how humans and AI systems can work synergistically together and complement each other in decision-making in organizational contexts. His research also advanced the concept of algorithmic management, detailing how algorithms may automate or augment the managerial functions.

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    Crosby Kemper

    Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services

    Crosby Kemper is the sixth director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He was commissioned by the White House on January 24, 2020, following his confirmation by the United States Senate. IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation's museums and libraries. Kemper is a dedicated advocate for education and learning for people of all ages and backgrounds. He comes to IMLS from the Kansas City Public Library, where as director, he established the library as one of the city’s leading cultural destinations and a hub of community engagement. His full biography is available on the IMLS website.

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    Jason Kuhl

    CEO, St. Charles City-County Library District since

    My career in libraries began in 1994 when I took a part-time job in the local public library while I was an undergraduate. I fell in love with public libraries there and after a brief stint as a graduate student in art history, I returned to them for good. After earning my MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois in 1999, I spent eight years in various roles at the St. Louis (MO) County Library. In 2008, I became Information Services Manager at the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library and served in three positions there including five years as Executive Director. I have been CEO of the St. Charles City-County Library District since 2018, leading an 11-branch system serving over 400,000 people in Missouri’s fastest-growing county.

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    Pilar Martinez

    CEO, Edmonton Public Library and Vice Chair/Chair-Elect, ULC Board of Directors

    Pilar Martinez is the CEO of the award-winning Edmonton Public Library, where she is responsible for leading 650 staff, managing a $69 million operating budget and supporting the Board of Trustees and stakeholder relations. Over the last 10 years, Pilar has successfully led and implemented capital projects totaling over $200 million. She has championed numerous innovative services, including community-led service delivery, makerspace and digital initiatives, highly popular early literacy services and speakers’ series. Pilar has a broad base of experience in executive leadership including advocacy, strategic planning, recruitment and change leadership. She holds an MLIS from the University of Alberta, a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in English from Acadia University and recently completed the Institute of Corporate Directors’ Directors Education Program.

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    Dr. Jeremy Nobel

    Physician, Public Health Practitioner, Founder & President of The Foundation for Art & Healing

    Jeremy Nobel, M.D., MPH, is a primary-care physician, public health practitioner, and award-winning poet with faculty appointments at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Medical School. He is the founder and president of The Foundation for Art & Healing, whose signature initiative, Project UnLonely, addressing the personal and public health challenges of loneliness and social isolation, has gained national visibility. His book, Project UnLonely: Healing Our Crisis of Disconnection, will be published on October 3, 2023.

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    Vailey Oehlke

    Director of Libraries, Multnomah County Library

    Vailey Oehlke was appointed Director of Libraries for Multnomah County in 2009. A longtime resident of Portland, she began her career at the library in 1997 as a youth librarian in the Multnomah County Library School Corps. After six years, she joined the staff of the downtown Central Library, first as a section administrator and then as director. She became the library's deputy director in 2008 and was promoted to director a year later. A champion of innovation, Vailey is committed to helping Multnomah County Library anticipate and respond to the changing needs of our community by providing resources, services and spaces that help advance opportunity and equity. Vailey is passionate about the important role of public libraries in developing vibrant and engaged communities, and is engaged in local and national boards and advisory groups. She is past President of the Public Library Association, and has served on the Executive Boards of the Public Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council and on the board of Nonprofit Technology Education Network (NTEN). She is a member of the American Library Association and the Oregon Library Association.

    Skye Patrick La County Library Director

    Skye Patrick

    Director, LA County Library

    Skye Patrick is the director of LA County Library. Committed to breaking down barriers and increasing access for all, Skye introduced the iCount equity initiative, which ensures that the library services and programs address the needs of the diverse communities served throughout Los Angeles County. As the director, Skye continues to reinforce the library’s role in the community as a civic and cultural center, a hub for public information and services and an institution of literacy, innovation and lifelong learning. In January 2019, Skye was named Librarian of the Year by Library Journal. Under her leadership, the library has also won the Library Journal 2018 Marketer of the Year award and 2019 Library of the Year award, in addition to being named a finalist for the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal in 2018 and 2019, and a medalist in 2023.


    Laura Schlehuber

    Futurist and Foresight Research Program Manager, University of Houston

    Laura Schlehuber is a degreed futurist and innovation consultant, speaker and lecturer who helps organizations envision plausible futures and find solutions to the most complex challenges. Laura is an independent futurist and the research manager at University of Houston, where she trains futurists, teaches and consults organizations, with a focus on the implications of the future and strategic actions for today. Previously, Laura was a pension and health and welfare actuary at Ernst & Young (EY) in their People Advisory Services consulting practice and then, having earned a Masters in Foresight from the University of Houston in 2014, Laura co-led and designed the Foresight and Breakthrough Innovation practice at Kalypso focusing on consumer product goods and retail. In her over 10 years of work in Foresight, Laura uses her unique combination of interests and experiences to include important social elements such as intimacy, mental health and emotional intelligence in her analyses and forecasts. Laura is also on the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) board as the Treasurer.

    Duncan Smith

    Duncan Smith

    Chief Strategist, EBSCO Learning and Founder, NoveList

    Duncan Smith, the founder of NoveList, currently serves as the Chief Strategist for the EBSCO Learning unit of EBSCO Information Services. In this role, he works with public libraries and his EBSCO colleagues to identify ways they can partner to ensure library success.

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    Jessica Smith

    Strategy and Policy Advisor, The Seattle Public Library

    Jessica Smith has been The Seattle Public Library's Strategy and Policy Advisor since June 2023. In this role, Smith provides strategic, organizational, and operational support to the Chief Librarian and Library Senior Management Team on important system-wide initiatives. Smith has worked for the City of Seattle since 2015, including with the Seattle Department of Human Resources, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Center. With the City, Smith has led and managed complex projects; advanced workforce and racial equity; and engaged staff, community members, and stakeholders to ensure the success of publicly funded initiatives. A Midwestern transplant from Milwaukee, Wisc., Smith attended the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee where she earned Bachelors of Arts degrees in Anthropology and Geography. As an undergrad, Smith was selected to participate in a Geospatial Research and Mapping research grant in Oahu, Hawai’i funded by the National Science Foundation. Smith’s professional and research interests are focused on understanding how people and place can shape public policy while centering racial equity and social justice throughout the process.

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    Jonna Ward

    CEO, The Seattle Public Library Foundation

    Jonna Ward is a seasoned professional with nearly 25 years of experience in library and non-profit sectors. She serves as CEO for the Seattle Public Library Foundation, which has become the largest public library foundation in the US based on managed assets. Jonna's influence extends beyond Seattle, through the development of the Library Support Network which provides resources for library leaders and fundraising professionals through the International Public Library Fundraising Conference, #LibraryGivingDay, and the online LSN Community.

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    Roosevelt Weeks

    Director, Austin Public Library and Board Chair, ULC Board of Directors

    Roosevelt Weeks has served as the director of Austin Public Library since 2017, where he leads a dynamic team and library system of 20 branch locations, the History Center and a new Central Library. He came from the Houston Public Library, where he served, most recently, as the deputy director of administration overseeing the following units: organizational development, financial services, fleet inventory/distribution services, digital inclusion and community engagement. Prior to that role, Roosevelt served as chief technology officer where he oversaw implementation of wireless connectivity and videoconferencing for all library locations, installation of a patron reservation system and upgrading of computer technology. He is a member of and serves on several committees within the Texas Library Association, American Library Association and Public Library Association. Prior to joining HPL, Roosevelt held management positions at Accenture and Aetna. He received his master’s degree in library science from the University of North Texas and his Bachelor of Science in computer science from Texas Southern University.

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    Lance Werner

    Executive Director, Kent District Library

    Lance Werner has served as the Executive Director at the Kent District Library in Kent County, Michigan, for more than a decade. With a background in law and library sciences, he has held a number of roles and leadership positions including past president of the Michigan Library Association (MLA), chair of the MLA Legislative Committee and advisory board member of the Wayne State School of Information Sciences. He is the Vice Chair of the Library of Michigan Board and the President of the Lakeland Library Cooperative Board. Lance's dedication to the field has earned him numerous accolades. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of Information Sciences in 2014 and was honored with Wayne State University Alumni Association's top alumni distinction in 2017. In 2017, he was also the recipient of the Urban Libraries Council Joey Rodger Leadership Award and was named Librarian of the Year by the Michigan Library Association. The following year, in 2018, he earned the title of Librarian of the Year from Library Journal, becoming the first and only Michigan librarian to receive this prestigious recognition. More recently, Lance received the "GRAND RAPIDS 200" recognition for the third consecutive year, signifying his influence and impact as one of the 200 most powerful and influential individuals in West Michigan for 2021, 2022 and 2023. He won the 2023 ALA Ernest A. DiMattia Jr. Award for Innovation and Services to Community and Profession Award.

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    Sadie Williams

    Director of Growth and Incubation in Education, Microsoft

    Sadie Williams (she/they), Director of Growth and Incubation in Education at Microsoft, brings over two decades of experience in education, libraries, and academic research to the table. Committed to the responsible development, design, and utilization of technology, she finds fulfillment in addressing intricate societal challenges through technology, all while keeping equity at the forefront. With influential leadership roles at ProQuest and Baker & Taylor, she spearheaded innovation in the library industry. Her impact extends beyond the commercial sphere across academia and technology, including roles at the University of Michigan Libraries, Eastern Michigan University, and the Alaska Native Language Center. Sadie's passion lies in fostering collaborative creativity to drive purpose-driven innovation.

    Thank You To Our Sponsors

    We would like to thank EBSCO for their generous support of the 2023 ULC Annual Forum!


    We also thank Baker & Taylor for sponsoring the 2023 ULC Annual Forum Welcome Reception and Member Reception!

    Baker & Taylor