Mack-Harvin: One for the Books

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“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success,� says Stephen Covey, Author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. From Librarian to the first African American woman Executive Director of the Brooklyn Public Library (the fifth largest library system in the nation), Dionne Mack-Harvin brings undeniable authentication to those words. 

Ms. Mack-Harvin began her employ with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) in 1996 as a Librarian in the Crown Heights Branch.  From there, she went on to become Branch Manager-Supervising Librarian of the Marcy Branch, then Regional Librarian in charge of 24 neighborhood libraries, and later, through her hard work and perseverance, Ms. Mack-Harvin became Director of the Central Library, being charged with administration of a $5 million budget and staff of 122 people.  In 2005, Ms. Mack-Harvin was appointed Chief-of-Staff for the entire BPL, and due to excellence in her role as Chief-of-Staff, she was named Interim Executive Director in July 2006.  As Interim Executive Director, Ms. Mack-Harvin managed the opening of the Highlawn Library and oversaw the most successful Summer Reading program ever held at the BPL (44% increase in participation over the prior year).  Her position involved working closely with the Mayor, City Council, Borough President, State and Federal Governments and the BPL Board of Trustees.  Thus far, Ms. Mack-Harvin’s major accomplishments include the creation of the new “Popular Library� division at the Central Library, an increase in circulation and public service hours at the BPL, and serving on the Executive Planning Committee for the Access Brooklyn Card (ABC) – the BPL’s multifaceted library debit card. 

Ms. Mack-Harvin has a BA in History and African-American Studies from the State University of New York College at Brockport, an MA in African Studies from the University at Albany, State University of New York and an MLS from the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.  She is a member of the New York Library Association, American Library Association (ALA), the Black Caucus of ALA, the ALA Conference Program Coordinating Committee and Chair of the Public Relations Committee for the 6th National Conference of African American Librarians.

Ms. Mack-Harvin was most gracious to share some information with BSN on how the Brooklyn Public Library is enhancing the lives of people in our communities through programs that are already in place and to give us exciting news about the amazing programs that lie ahead.

BSN:  Ms. Mack-Harvin, thank you for sharing your time with us.  Congratulations on your new appointment as Executive Director of the BPL. 

Mack-Harvin: Thank you, Brenda.  I appreciate having the opportunity to share this very important information with everyone.

BSN: Ms. Mack-Harvin, I understand that you have been an employee at the BPL since 1996, starting as a Librarian at the Crown Heights Branch. What are some of the challenges that you faced as an employee over the years, and how did you overcome those challenges, resulting in the prestigious position you hold today?

Mack-Harvin: Brooklyn is an ever-changing borough with library users with many different needs. Meeting these needs and continuing to stay relevant to our customers is a challenge for all major public libraries, not just BPL. It’s also one of the factors that keep my job exciting. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in changing how people experience the library, from helping to develop and implement the Cluster Pilot Project, which streamlined management of BPL’s 58 neighborhood libraries into 14 distinct “clusters� to serving on the Executive Planning Committee for our ABC library debit card.  The leadership experience that I gained from this work as well as my vision for library service in the future is part of my rise to Executive Director.

BSN: The vital exercise of reading books is threatened by the hold that video games, various technical gadgets and other forms of entertainment have over our children and youth. What are some ideas or programs you have in mind to compel children and youth to read books?

Mack-Harvin: Staying ahead of the trends in children and teen books is a critical part of attracting and retaining young readers. We have an excellent team of children specialists who try to select books, such as the new Harry Potter book, and other materials that kids and teens love. We also try to bridge reading and young people’s interest in technology by offering online book clubs and opportunities to publish book reviews and creative writing on our website. Young readers can also download eBooks and eAudio books from on our site 24 hours, 7 days a week using their library card.

BSN: Many parents complain that schools in low-income areas lack resources (for adequate class room size; teachers; even books and other resources). In what way will the BPL be working together with the school system to address this issue?

Mack-Harvin: Community outreach and partnerships, especially with local schools and after-school care providers, is a signature part of BPL’s service to children and teens. We work closely with administrators, teachers and community leaders to support curriculum building, special projects and youth development throughout Brooklyn. We also bring technology-training and books and authors to students through programs such as our “Today’s Teens, Tomorrows’ Techies� and Teen Edge series.
BSN: A big problem that parents seem to encounter is lack of information about possible resources for early learning and development. Is there a regular system in place that offers interactive reading or storytelling programs for children that are not necessarily in school but are still at an impressionable age, or will such programs be implemented?

Mack-Harvin: Nurturing lifelong learners is a top priority at BPL. In 2005, we launched our award-winning early literacy campaign, “Brooklyn Reads to Babies,� to educate parents, grandparents and caregivers about the importance of reading to children in their first five years of life. We offer a variety of stimulating activities for babies, toddlers and preschoolers that engage their imaginations and get them excited about reading. Adults can learn more about our special programs for young children on our First Five Years website at We also offer reading tips and book suggestions on our site and in our downloadable “Brooklyn Reads to Babies� brochure, which we’ve translated into Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Haitian Creole and Arabic to expand our outreach to Brooklynites with little ones in their lives.

BSN: Small business development, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment get a lot of interest from so many people from all walks of life. Does the BPL have any specific programs in place to address such matters?

Mack-Harvin: Our Business Library offers free business-related services and information that can help entrepreneurs realize their personal and professional dreams. A unique way that we support small business development here in Brooklyn is through our annual “PowerUP! Your Business Starts Here Business Plan Competition.� This contest, co-sponsored by the Citigroup Foundation, invites Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs and new businesses that require start-up capital to submit business plans for a grand prize of $15,000, plus another $5,000 in business assistance services. Additional details about the PowerUp competition and other professional resources are available on our Business Library website at

BSN: What methods of outreach do you use to inform everyone about new programs and what’s going on at the BPL on a regular basis?

Mack-Harvin: Marketing is key to BPL’s outreach. Our Public Relations team works closely with a variety of local media to advertise our initiatives and services to the public. We recently kicked off our spring marketing campaign, “Where Brains Go to Grow,� on outdoor billboards and MTA bus sides throughout Brooklyn. BPL staff regularly meets with schools, Community Boards and local groups to make more Brooklynites aware of our numerous resources. We also produce a quarterly Calendar of Events, which is mailed to customers throughout the borough, and an eNewsletter that is released twice a month. In addition, customers can pick up a copy of the Calendar of Events at any BPL location, or visit our website at to download the calendar or subscribe to our eNewsletter.

BSN: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Mack-Harvin: There are many exciting things ahead at BPL. On June 7, we’re kicking off our annual Summer Reading program at each of our 60 libraries. Anyone can win great prizes for opening up a new or favorite book when they register for Summer Reading at their neighborhood library or online at This year’s program will offer tons of fun activities, plus the opportunity to meet acclaimed writers at our Summer Reading author talks. In the fall, we’re opening up our new Dweck Auditorium and renovated Central Library Plaza. Both venues will provide more public gathering spaces and allow people to experience some of the most cutting-edge artists, writers and performers in Brooklyn.  I hope to see Black Star and many of your readers at the library this summer, and hope you’ll help us celebrate our big opening in the fall. Thank you for this opportunity.

BSN: Thank you very much.  We’ll be there.

For more information on Executive Director, Dionne Mack-Harvin or the BPL, logon to

NOTE: For the small business owner, business professional, and those who aspire to start and succeed in business, The BPL Business Library has some great programs, many of which are offered by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.  The BPL Business Library is located at 280 Cadman Plaza West, Brooklyn, NY 11201 718.623.7000, . 

For more information on programs offered at the BPL Business Library by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, logon to

Brenda Jeanne Wyche, Advocate for Solutions and Results, is Managing Editor of The Black Star News and Harlem Business News, CEO of Winning Strategies & Associates, VP of Public Relations for The Professionals Network Organization and Director of Public Relations for The Phenomenal Women Group.  If you have a solution, contact .  Maybe we’ll talk.

To subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to
“Speaking Truth To Empower.�

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