NP native hired as new director of town library

NP native hired as new director of town library

Stefanie Blankenship is the new North Providence Union Free Library Director. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Stefanie Blankenship describes starting her new role as director of the North Providence Union Free Library as a homecoming.

Blankenship, who was born and raised in North Providence and went to the library as a child for crafts and story times, said she also worked there in the reference department throughout her time in college.

“This place is near and dear to my heart,” she told The Breeze. “It’s meaningful when it’s the place that you’re from. I definitely feel back at home.”

Blankenship started as director on July 6, taking over for Mary Ellen Hardiman, who retired after decades leading the library on Mineral Spring Avenue.

“I have big shoes to fill,” Blankenship said, noting that Hardiman “did so much for the library.”

When Blankenship worked at the library during her college years, she said she always said she’d be back one day and knew that when the job became available, she wanted to serve as director.

Though she started in the middle of the ongoing pandemic and while the library was still closed to the public, Blankenship said, “It’s been going surprisingly well.”

She’s staying positive and looking at the time as an opportunity to rebuild and improve things that may not have worked in the past, she said. “Now’s the chance to move forward in a new direction,” she said. Making sure they’re taking care of the community and patrons is important to her, she added.

As of last week, the library reopened to patrons for limited browsing hours on a limited basis: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. Computer usage will be by appointment only by calling the reference department at 401-353-5600, ext. 3. All patrons entering the building are asked to self-screen for symptoms and must wear a mask.

“Since we opened this week, it’s been amazing,” she said last Thursday. “The energy here is very uplifting.”

The staff is feeling empowered and energized and patrons are thankful for the reopening, sharing how much they missed the library and the human interaction, she said. “Everyone is ecstatic to be back in this library,” she said. “We’re happy to have everyone here, too.”

While the library was closed, staff still provided services such as curbside pickup and the Little Free Library so people could access materials. Curbside pickup is continuing, Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Right now the library is in phase 2 of reopening but the hope is to be in phase 3 by Labor Day, which means it will be open more hours and more available to the public, she said. “We need numbers (of coronavirus cases) in the state to not increase. … The real challenge is uncertainty.”

One of her goals right now is to increase communication with both staff and patrons. In order to do that, staff is getting help from Ocean State Libraries to ramp up their technology and hope to get an updated website to share information more effectively to patrons, she said, as well as increasing their social media presence.

“Right now communication is extremely important, especially when we’re closed two days a week or staff can’t meet together physically in the building,” she said.

While everyone must follow the health and social distancing guidelines in place, Blankenship said she wants patrons’ “experience to be more about coming back to the library (and) seeing familiar faces.” She wants their visits to the library to be a “positive beacon of light.”

Even though time and capacity is more limited than before, she said she wants to make everything accessible to patrons in a safe way. Chairs have been set up outside so people can use their laptops out there, and they are providing both outdoor and virtual programming.

Prior to starting in North Providence, Blankenship worked for the Cranston Public Library system for 15 years and then the Providence Community Library for six months.

After graduating as valedictorian from North Providence High School in 2000, she received her bachelor’s degree in social science from Providence College and a master’s degree in library and information studies at the University of Rhode Island.

She said she’s grateful for the staff for everything they taught her when she was in college and for welcoming her back now. Some staff members are still around from her first job there. “Everyone is a family here,” she said. “I want to keep them safe. … I’m constantly being amazed by everything they think of. We complement each other very well.”

She also wants to thank the library’s board of trustees, including Dorothy Swain, for entrusting her with the library, especially in the middle of a pandemic, she said. “I’m very honored they selected me and believe in me.”

She’s looking forward to working with Mayor Charles Lombardi and the town, she added.

“I’m proud to be back in North Providence where I grew up,” she said.

North Providence Union Free Library Directer Stefanie Blankenship takes part in a children’s Jiu Jitsu activity at the library last Thursday morning.