7960746860?profile=originalKaren Ronald says the library is ‘not just books and materials.’ Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack


    Karen Ronald brings everything you would expect to her new job as director of the Delray Beach Public Library.
    She has a master’s degree in library science. She has loads of experience, having led four libraries before arriving in Delray Beach in July, and she loves books and reading.
    Ronald also brings a passion for making a difference — and the library is her tool for doing just that.
    “The potential here to be even better at improving the lives of residents is enormous,” she says.
    Ronald is focused on ensuring the library has all the resources visitors expect. Yet she sees it as more than just a building with books and computers. To her, it’s a place that can serve the community and make it a better place to live for everyone.
    “It’s not just books and materials,” she said. “It’s the connections we make with people — and we do change lives.”
    To illustrate her point, she tells the story of a local homeless man who had a job offer but didn’t have required identification and a home address to put on the application.
    He found a friend in one of the Delray library’s reference librarians who became his coach, helping him navigate his way to receiving proper identification and an address.
    “We connected with that person and changed his life,” Ronald said. “It happens often.”
    Ronald believes a library should not just serve the community but should also be a part of it in many ways. “You have to be responsive to new demands and needs,” she said.
    That’s exactly what the library did soon after Hurricane Irma. Before most people had electricity, the library was open for anyone who needed to use a computer, charge a cellphone or just cool off in air conditioning. Many people used the library resources to reach family members to let them know they were OK.
    In addition, the library hosted organizations that served food in the parking lot.
    “It’s not what you normally think a library would do,” said Nancy Dockerty, who heads the Delray Beach Public Library’s board of directors. “Karen’s very big on community, and that’s what makes her a perfect fit for Delray, because that’s what this city is all about.”
    Ronald’s commitment to serving the city’s diverse community is one of the driving forces behind some new initiatives. She is working to increase the number of books available in Haitian Creole and Spanish. She also would like to have programs, such as story times, conducted in multiple languages.
    With financial support being sought from residents and charitable foundations, the library team also hopes to roll out a bookmobile.
    Instead of just stacks of books inside a bus-sized vehicle, though, the new bookmobile will have iPads, as well as books that can be taken into a community center or school, where staff members can conduct everything from story times to parenting classes.
    “She has a ton of experience,” Dockerty said, adding that Ronald not only ran municipal libraries but also another nonprofit library like Delray Beach’s, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit run by a board.
    Before coming to Delray Beach this summer, Ronald — who declined to give her age — spent more than seven years as director of the public library in Fairfield, Connecticut.
    She was one of 70 applicants from around the country for the Delray Beach library job, lured by the challenge and the freedom to innovate, as well as by the weather.
    “I don’t like snow,” she said.
    That might sound strange coming from someone who grew up in Canada and worked there as the political assistant to a member of Parliament. Later, she worked as a political assistant to the Ministry of External Affairs — the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. State Department.
    If that seems like a far different world from running a library, Ronald says both jobs are about finding solutions.
 “I was helping people solve problems all day long,” she says of her time in government.
    Seeking to move in a different direction after the world of politics, Ronald went back to school and earned a master of library and information science degree and a master’s degree in political science. She also worked toward a doctorate in computing science and technology with a concentration on information science.
    With a focus on listening to people in the community and finding ways to help them, Ronald is changing old stereotypes and perceptions.
    “People think librarians are very reserved,” she said. “They don’t always see us as people wanting to move a community forward.”

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Coastal Star to add comments!

Join The Coastal Star

Activity Feed

The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Jul 9
The Coastal Star posted an event
Jul 8
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in HIGHLAND BEACH
Jul 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in ACROSS THE BRIDGE
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BEACH WATCH
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a blog post
Jul 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Jul 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BOCA RATON
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BOCA RATON
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Jul 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in GULF STREAM
Jul 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
Jul 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Jul 3
More…