New director no stranger to library, looks to future

Posted 10/22/20

By JOHN HOWELL Jana Stevenson says when she starts a new position, she fully immerses herself. There's no thought of anything else. That's what happened when she was named deputy director of the Warwick Public Library eight years ago. Last Wednesday, the

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New director no stranger to library, looks to future


Jana Stevenson says when she starts a new position, she fully immerses herself. There’s no thought of anything else. That’s what happened when she was named deputy director of the Warwick Public Library eight years ago.

Last Wednesday, the Library Board of Trustees chose Stevenson to succeed Chris LaRoux who retired earlier this fall, as library director.

“This is where I am and this is what I love,” she said of the library. She doesn’t envision the job as easy. In recent years she has prepared herself for this step. It’s a job she says that requires “crazy leadership skills” and the understanding of each of the library’s 43 positions. Top on her agenda is broadening the perception of the library as a place to borrow books, hold meetings and where moms bring their kids for story time.

“We have to find ways to pull the image of the library into the 21st century,” she said in an interview Friday.

In her role as deputy director, Stevenson had the library join the Kent County Prevention Coalition in an effort to explore ways the library could help address addictions, drug over dose deaths and mental health issues. Since the pandemic, she and her staff have sought ways to bring people back to the library safely while offering services some members of the community can’t afford.

Soon after reopening on a limited basis in June, the Idea Studio, which has a dedicated library entrance, was transformed as a place where kids and their parents could pick out books. Working with the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and the Warwick Beacon, the library initiated its Tuesday job fair where those looking for a job can meet remotely – either from their home or the library – with a prospective employer. WiFi was boosted so it can be accessed from the parking lot.

Stevenson sees WiFi being as integral to our lives as electricity, a utility that is essential. “You have to have it to function in normal society.”

She is looking to expand the library’s collection of “hot spots,” devices that provide WiFi service at no cost. The devices are loaned for a week and there is always a waiting list. The library obtains the service at a special cost of $10 a month per device, yet expanding the service puts a squeeze on the budget and making choices. The library has reopened the Conimicut branch, but branches in Apponaug and Norwood remain closed, as the city administration reduced library staffing by four positions.

Stevenson aims to improve communication with the city administration.

The library hosted the mayoral debate sponsored by the Warwick Beacon and the City Council candidate forums held this week. The debate and forums were live streamed and may be viewed on both the library and Beacon websites.

While the Library Board of Trustees conducted a nationwide search for a director – there was even an applicant from Europe – the transition from LaRoux, whose retirement became effective Oct. 1, to Stevenson taking command happened in less than a month.

“We did a full search even though we knew we had the person here,” said Stephanie Carter, chair of the trustees on Sunday. Of the 18 applicants, the pool was narrowed to three who were interviewed. Carter said the trustees were impressed by Stevenson’s willingness to try new things to outreach to the community.

“She has a great understanding of how the library runs,” said Carter. She pointed out that Stevenson was involved in the strategic planning and “has a clear eye to the future.”

After graduating from the University of South Carolina-Columbia in 2006, Stevenson worked as children’s services manager at John’s Island Regional Branch in Charleston County. She was assistant branch manager at Charleston County Public Library in South Carolina before coming to Warwick.

As her husband works for Hasbro and she imagined she would be traveling a lot, she said she chose to go into library work figuring that wherever they ended up she could find a job. The traveling didn’t work out as she imagined, or perhaps hoped for, but that didn’t slow her drive to broaden her interests. It was a quality the Rhode Island Library Association recognized this spring when they awarded her the Outstanding Librarian Award for 2020.

In making the announcement at the May 28 Rhode Island Library Association virtual conference, the association noted Stevenson was involved in establishing the RILA Career Mentorship Program and was responsible for obtaining grants for a history program and virtual reality equipment. They also recognized her as an advocate for those with learning disabilities and for establishing monthly craft programs for people with learning disabilities.

Carter said the trustees are impressed by Stevenson’s can-do attitude.

“She asks, ‘How can we make this happen?’” she said.

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