Sara Jones: Profile of a Library Innovator

by Christine Hamilton-Pennell
Growing Local Economies, Inc.
May 10, 2011

Sara Jones, Carson City Library Director

Sara Jones, Carson City Library Director

When Sara Jones took over the helm of the Carson City Library, she had a vision for how the library could become the face of the community. Along with her efforts to create the Business Resource Innovation Center (BRIC) and the downtown redevelopment project that includes a new larger library building, she has initiated several other efforts that have increased the visibility of the library.

First of all, Sara shows up. She attends community and political meetings and receptions, and offers to take on tasks that need to be done. She works tirelessly to put together mutually-beneficial partnerships among key business and community players.

Both Sara and Tammy Westergard, the library’s marketing manager, are not afraid to ask for support and funding for the library. Since they both already have connections all over town, these are not “cold calls.” Neither one of them will take “no” for an answer. According to Tammy, “Partnerships and matching funds are the name of the game. You can’t be shy and expect to get what you need.” Tammy says Sara has been particularly successful in obtaining grants and other sources of funding. “If there is money to be had, Sara will not leave it on the table.”

Sara has done grant-writing workshops for library audiences, and was recently asked to do such a workshop for the local arts council. She wasn’t sure at first whether her curriculum would translate into giving grants to individuals, but she said it turned out to be pretty simple: “Write a good proposal and show that you can deliver on it.”

Building upon the ideas of Elizabeth Martinez, director of the Salinas Public Library and former director of ALA, Sara and her staff gave a library card to every school child in Carson City. They offered a “reverse permission slip” by which parents could opt out of their child receiving the card (few did). She and her staff went to every classroom in the city to hand out the library cards. As a result, library use has skyrocketed.

Sara put three years of funding into the grant that funded the BRIC (a state library stimulus broadband grant) for a business librarian to staff the center. This soft money will allow them to demonstrate that the BRIC has been successful in meeting its goals. They keep detailed records of the center’s usage.

The library completed a strategic plan for 2009-2013, and Sara reports that the library has already met 75 percent of its goals. One of the goals involved restoring cut service hours with three fewer staff. One way she freed up the necessary staff time was to get all their materials labeled with RFID tags to reduce the number of times an item is handled.

Sara and Tammy are currently pursuing funding to purchase an automated library “branch.” It is essentially a “library vending machine” with a robotic arm that can deliver a book or media item from a collection of 500 items. The technology is experimental, and they hope to be a test case for the manufacturer.

As all of these examples demonstrate, Sara takes a “how can we do this?” attitude towards every project. As she herself acknowledges, she tends to wear rose-colored glasses and is an unflagging optimist. But with the dire state of Nevada’s economy, she reflects, “all you can do is try to do something about it. That’s all we have control over.”

©2011 Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Growing Local Economies, Inc.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Sara Jones, Director of the Carson City Library, is an entrepreneur at heart. The former state librarian took her current position because she wanted to have more influence at the local level. She had a vision that the library could be an integral part of Carson City’s community infrastructure and business support systems. The seed for developing a collaborative effort was planted when Jones attended my workshop, “Building Public Partnerships,” sponsored by the Nevada State Library and Archives. Sara also brought City Supervisor Robin Williamson and Carson City Economic Development Director, Joe McCarthy to the workshop. She returned to the library with a mission to serve Carson City’s small business community and thereby contribute to the area’s economic growth. […]

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