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Book ’Em

Karen Ronald’s big vision for the town library



Photography by Stan Godlewski

Karen Ronald recently marked her second anniversary as Fairfield Town Librarian—but she’s not looking back. She’s looking forward. “I want this library to be recognized as one of the best in the United States,” she says. 
 
One way Ronald has been working to make that happen, first as deputy town librarian from 2006 to 2010 and now as town librarian, is through free programs the library offers. “When I first got here, I think we had 9,000 people attend programs and we now have 37,000, so that’s quite a jump in five years,” she says. Among the offerings are author talks and writing workshops, as well as series on jobs, health, and teen interests. There are even classes covering everything from crocheting to couponing. But Ronald refuses to take all the credit. “I have a lot of help, and you know, these aren’t all my ideas, but it does suggest to the staff that that’s where we need to go.”
 
The library leader says she’s been able to accomplish so much thanks to what she calls a “great” board of trustees. The respect is mutual, according to board member Bob Sussman, who says of Ronald, “I find she’s so dynamic that I really want to work for her.”
 
Sussman believes one of the most important things Ronald has done is to keep up with what he says are the “e-times.” “I don’t think people think of a library as being technologically progressive,” he says. “They have adapted this library to the digital age, in, number one, offering downloadable, library-loan books to your e-reader from home.” That’s something Ronald plans to offer even more of in the future. “Seventy percent of books are not checked out right now. Seventy percent of our digital items are,” she says. “So we know we’ve responded to a need, and we’re going to grow that collection.”
 
That desire to respond to the needs of others is what prompted Ronald to leave her job in federal politics in her native Canada to become a librarian. It’s a calling she jokes that her mother knew she had all along. “It’s sort of, ‘Mom was right … I told you so!’” she says. After heeding her mother’s advice, Ronald worked in her homeland before accepting a job first in Wilton, then Trumbull.
 
Now, as head of Connecticut’s second busiest library, Ronald admits her biggest challenge is financial. “I know what kind of money we need to really, really soar,” she says, “and I won’t expect it in a year or two years, but I would love to see it increase, you know, incrementally over the next decade because, boy, we could offer so much.”
 
But money hasn’t seemed to get in the way of what Ronald already offers the community. She says, “A friend told me, ‘One of the best things about you is you’re always saying yes. You’re hardly ever saying no.’ And that puts a lot of pressure on me because now I have to deliver. But I’d rather have that challenge and try and really respond to people.” 

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January 2019

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