Stevenson reflects on library career; trustees pick director

Posted 6/22/22


A couple of weeks ago there was a crack in the sidewalk at the Warwick Public Library.

Jana Stevenson, Library Director got on the phone with the Department of Public Works and the …

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Stevenson reflects on library career; trustees pick director



A couple of weeks ago there was a crack in the sidewalk at the Warwick Public Library.

Jana Stevenson, Library Director got on the phone with the Department of Public Works and the problem was fixed the next day.

Reflecting on her decade career during an interview at the Norwood Library Branch, Stevenson said when she first started that wouldn’t have happened.

Stevenson said it got done quickly and she didn’t have to find someone to fix it because of the relationship the library has been able to build with the administration over the course of her career.

Building that relationship is one of her proudest accomplishments.

“To me my biggest accomplishment is building that relationship between the City and the library. That was not there before,” said Stevenson. “It's just building that relationship between us and the city that has made such a difference.”

For example Stevenson said that for their mobile library she asked the Administration if the city could help with automotive things like the registration, oil changes and other minor repairs.

“The city agreed to let us use some of their resources also,” said Stevenson.

Stevenson said that the City also agreed to replace their HVAC system and maintenance elevator

“It's the first time in many years that the library has received any capital funding,” said Stevenson.

The relationship between the library and the City goes both ways. Stevenson said that last year when the City was struggling to sell beach passes Stevenson volunteered the library to help. In return it brought people into the library who hadn’t visited the library in years.

‘That's basically the same thing as giving someone a library card,” said Stevenson.

About 10 years ago Stevenson and her family moved from South Carolina to Rhode Island for her husband’s work.

Next week Stevenson will be leaving her post as Library Director to head back south to be closer to family.

In 2020 Stevenson was promoted from Deputy Director to Director. It meant that the library had to make adjustments.

For example before the pandemic the library was doing a good job working with schools to get students involved with summer reading and having all first graders signed up for a library card, Stevenson said.

“We were seeing record numbers of summer reading before the pandemic,” said Stevenson.

Stevenson said that they are working on building that back up again.

During the pandemic Stevenson said that the library made a conscious effort to pivot specifically to meet people where they are.

“If you don’t go out and market and advertise, people will stop coming,” she said.

Stevenson said that they did so by going to different events like National Night Out, concerts in the park and other community activities where staff could set up tables.

“We’re there to talk about libraries,” said Stevenson.

Going forward Stevenson said that she thinks the biggest challenge is deciding what the priorities are. With limited staff and more initiatives like their mobile library and outreach events it means coming up with a balance to provide those services and the services offered in the physical library.

Stevenson also noted that their satellite branches that were open 20 to 22 hours a week before the pandemic will return to full operation after July 1 since two full-time positions were returned to the budget.

Library Board of Trustees picks new director

On Wednesday morning Stephanie Carter, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees told the Beacon that Aaron Coutu, the current Assistant Library Director for the Cumberland Public Library has been tapped to succeed Stevenson.

“He has a really great combination of higher experience related to working in a larger library and brings a lot of skills not only at the Cumberland library but he also taught library sciences at the University of Rhode Island,” said Carter.

Carter said that he was also selected because the trustees thought he would connect well with the current staff.

“He’s personable, he really has a good way of connecting with staff, he has an understanding of doing different roles in the library,” said Carter.

A Coventry native, Coutu has been working in Cumberland for the last 11 years as the Assistant Library Director.

“The idea of moving up into the directorship is something I found appealing,” said Coutu.

Coutu said that he visited the Warwick Library a number of times over the years.

“It seems like a place that I would like to be part of the team,” said Coutu.

Over the course of his career Coutu got to work in many different aspects of the library. Originally Coutu went to college for political science and journalism but was then presented with the opportunity to pursue a masters degree in library science.

Coutu doesn’t have any regrets.

“I’ve loved every minute,” he said.

Coutu, who starts July 11, said that his first step is to work with the team in place to see where they are at and where they want to go.

Coutu wants to continue to build on what is done to connect with social services in the area so more people in the community can have access to organizations.

“If we can better partner with those agencies it could be crucial for people,” said Coutu.

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