Miranda McKearney is to step down from her role as director of The Reading Agency in December.
McKearney, one of the founders of the 11-year-old charity, said she had made the decision ahead of her 60th birthday in February next year.
She said: "Over the past 10 years The Reading Agency has grown from being an entrepreneurial experiment into a force for change—helping change lives through reading. Through our programmes like the Summer Reading Challenge we have given seven million people opportunities to become more confident and enthusiastic readers. I'm immensely proud of what we have achieved but as I approach 60 it's time for me to step aside and for someone else to lead the organisation into the future."
McKearney told The Bookseller: "As you approach 60 you find yourself interested in all sorts of thing—local history, birdwatching and growing courgettes—but I have never found a way of doing this job without putting my heart and soul into it 24/7 so I never have time for anything else. When you are a founder you feel so passionately about it all. I live in this wonderful place, Winchester, and I want to be on the South Downs instead of on the 6.48 a.m. to Waterloo."
She added that she would never do a full-time job again but would have "a different sort of portfolio life". But she said: "My passion and expertise is literacy, literature and libraries, so I'd be surprised if it were not involved with that. I'll be furiously supporting and championing The Reading Agency as much as I can."
"The timing is important to me because anybody leaving an organisation wants to leave it in a strong place. I do feel The Reading Agency is in a good, strong place despite all the challenges, with an amazing team and thriving programmes. For all charities at the moment, not just those particularly close to libraries, it is an incredibly challenging time. Those that survive will be innovative, with a strong sense of mission – and The Reading Agency has that in spades.
"The Universal Reading Offer will be a very important part of how things work in the future. It's a model of collective activity—98% of authorities are doing the Summer Reading Challenge, 95% did World Book Night—and local authorities have signed up to that strategy to 2015. There is also digital remodelling – we are doing a lot of thinking about how libraries integrate digital and the Summer Reading Challenge web stats are really good so far."
A successor is being recruited with the help of executive search firm Liz Amos Associates, with the post set to be advertised at the start of September. McKearney said she wanted "a totally seamless transition" and the chance to introduce her successor to everyone before leaving. "It's a hugely challenging role but a very exciting one for an organisation with a lot of supportive partners," she added.
TRA chairperson Liz Cleaver said McKearney would be "sorely missed". She said: "But we have high hopes and big plans for the future. Over the next five years the charity aims to offer ten million more opportunities to get involved in practical, fun and relevant reading activities that empower people, and give everyone an equal change to become a reader. The Reading Agency will be aiming to appoint a new c.e.o. to help deliver that vision: an inspirational leader with a passion for reading in all its forms, and the energy, resilience and tenacity to fight for it."
Vintage publishing m.d. Richard Cable paid tribute to McKearney's record at TRA, saying: "She has really cemented a fabulous relationship with the trade publishers through Reading Partners, and if you look at the major trade initiatives – Quick Reads, World Book Day and World Book Night - The Reading Agency and Miranda have been at the centre of all of them."
Meanwhile Joyce Wilson, area director for London at Arts Council England, said: "We are sorry to hear that Miranda is stepping down as director of The Reading Agency. She has been a powerful advocate for literature and library development and her passion for the promotion of reading is evident in everything that she does. As founder of the charity, Miranda has been at the heart of its work over the last 11 years, including two of its most notable programmes, the Summer Reading Challenge and Six Book Challenge…. We wish Miranda all the best for the future, and are looking forward to working with the new director as they build on Miranda's outstanding achievements."
This year's achievements for The Reading Agency have included launched the new Reading Well books on prescription scheme with the Society of Chief Librarians and gaining a £1m donation from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.