Laura Kimberly is a firm believer that libraries are, and should always strive to be much more than simply a large collection of books and other media. “They’re community hubs,” she said. “There’s something for everybody at the library. They may not know that. They may not know what resources exist.”
As the new director of the Newport Public Library, Kimberly’s mission is to carry on a tradition of serving people of all ages and all walks of life, and she wants to reach out and let folks in the community know all that the library has to offer.
Kimberly began her new position with the library on April 1, taking over the reins of the organization from Ted Smith, who recently retired. She started her career as a school librarian working in Washoe County, Nevada, which includes the city of Reno, where she was born and raised. Over the course of six years, she worked at two different elementary schools that were high-risk, Title I schools.
She and her husband, Paul, later moved to Yreka, Calif., where he was employed with the state’s food and agriculture department. They spent about 14 months there, during which time Kimberly completed an online program to earn a master’s degree in library and information science. That led to her being hired by Jackson County (Oregon) Library Services as the Medford branch manager, which is the main library branch in Jackson County.
Kimberly was later promoted to the position of assistant director of public services. “I was responsible for overseeing all 15 branches,” she said, “youth services, outreach to child care, outreach to homebound, floaters and subs and then also responsible for Medford Comic Con.”
Medford Comic Con is a success story in itself. “I started that back in 2014,” she said. “We started that to tie in with our summer reading theme, ‘Every Hero Has a Story.’ We had it on a Friday at the end of July and ended up having 2,000 people show up. It was crazy.”
Based on that large response, they decided to hold the event again the next year, but opted to schedule it for April, rather than as part of the summer reading program. “The second year we had 5,000 show up,” Kimberly said. “The third year we took over downtown Medford, and we had over 10,000 that came. Year four, which was last year, we went two days, and we had 20,000 people that showed up, and we won the Mayor’s Award for bringing tourism and industry into the area.” This year’s Medford Comic Con, a free, two-day event, will take place on April 27 and 28, “so I’m going back down to wrap it up because it’s my baby,” she said.
When asked if she envisioned a similar event in Newport, Kimberly said, “That’s something that we’ve been talking about with the staff, but if we do that, I want to do something different with it, tie it in with an ocean/nautical theme, pirates, or something like that. I think it’s a great fit in this community.”
And for Kimberly, community is what a library should be all about. That means first becoming acquainted with the members of her new community. On her first day of work, she attended a Newport City Council meeting, where she was introduced by City Manager Spencer Nebel to those in attendance. Coincidentally at that meeting, the city council passed a proclamation in recognition of National Library Week 2019, which is happening this week to place a spotlight on the role that libraries play in the communities they serve.
Also during her first week, Kimberly attended meetings of some local civic groups and spent time picking the brain of her predecessor, Ted Smith, and becoming better acquainted with MaryKay Dahlgreen, the librarian with the Lincoln County Library District who Kimberly had previously met when Dahlgreen served as the state librarian. Naturally, Kimberly has also spent time getting to know the library staff and volunteers, and “I want to try and organize a community meet-and-greet, too, so I can meet different people in the community,” she said.
Kimberly learned early on that the people of Newport are very supportive of their library. “That was one of the things that appealed to me about this job,” she said. “When we came and did the interview and they had the community meet and greet with the candidates, just seeing the energy in the room and the enthusiasm and excitement for the library … everybody I talked to was just so passionate about services and resources that we provide, and had so many wonderful things to say.”
In addition to day-to-day oversight of the various departments at the library, its 15 staff members and around 30 volunteers, Kimberly will also be planning for the future. “I like to be innovative and step outside the box, and that’s something I very much want to do here.” She also said she wanted to figure out how the library can work with the area’s underserved populations, “our transient, homeless, displaced, rural populations and figure out what we’re doing right now and where some of the holes are and how we’re going to be able to appeal to a wider audience in the community, to be able to fit their needs.”
In addition, the library is gearing up for its 100th anniversary, and a centennial celebration will be held in September.
Anyone who hasn’t visited the Newport Public Library in a while is encouraged to stop by. It is located at 35 NW Nye St. and is open seven days a week. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Additional information is available online at newportoregon.gov/library or by calling 541-265-2153.