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St. John Library Director steps down; takes new role in system

LAPLACE — Trina Smith recently moved from director to children’s librarian within the St. John the Baptist Parish Library system, and library leaders are hopeful the transfer signals brighter days ahead with the return of critical public services.

Employee turnover, resignations and disagreement over finances and policy have plagued the library system for the past four years, and tensions remained high after Smith accepted the director’s role in 2016.

In an October 2018 meeting, Library Board member Maria Victoria Coy said leadership and budgeting concerns fell on the shoulders of board members who failed to outline expectations for Smith.

Smith expressed she lacked support and directives from board members who hired her, knowing it was her first time stepping into a director’s role.

Smith can breathe a little easier since the transfer became effective Jan. 17, allowing her to return to her roots in children’s services. While she didn’t feel the library’s challenges during her time as director were unusual, there’s a comfort that comes with working in her area of expertise.

“My face is so different now than when you’ve talked to me before,” Smith told a L’OBSERVATEUR reporter. “I feel excited. I’m very happy in this role because of my years of experience. I have 17 years of children’s librarianship experience from a large system.”

That experience included serving on state literacy committees in Texas and participating in national and state conferences. Smith, a certified storyteller, holds a master’s degree in library science with a concentration in youth services.

The transfer leaves the director position open, and Library Board President Virgie Jarrow-Johnson said a timeline for a new hire is going to be discussed at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“I think (Smith) is very pleased with the move because this is a position she’s had before,” Jarrow-Johnson said. “It’s a good move for her and a good move for the system. The library is going to continue to move forward.”

Jarrow-Johnson said the next director must be able to “enhance programs for adults and juveniles and continue to support the financial portion of the library, as well as the administrative portion.”

The library director acts as chief executive of the library and secretary to the Library Board of Control. The director develops and administers library policies, plans the library’s budget, oversees hiring and leads tax election initiatives, among other responsibilities.

Coy said assistant director Dana Douglas will not be handling director’s responsibilities during the search for a new director.

“It’s a process,” Coy said. “It’s something that really shouldn’t be rushed because it’s important to find the right person.”

Coy said Smith entered the system as a highly thought of children’s librarian, and she’s optimistic leadership changes will be a positive for the patrons.

According to Smith, the children’s librarian role has been vacant for more than a year, creating a gap in essential public services.

“I’ve noticed since I’ve been back (to Louisiana), there is such a big gap, and that gap widened without a children’s librarian,” Smith said. “I would love to get children and families excited about reading. My area of expertise is early literacy so we catch them while they’re young. However, my age range would be from newborn to 11 years old.”

Smith took over 10:30 a.m. Thursday story times this week with plans to expand beyond the library’s walls. She hopes to work with local schools, daycare centers, home schooled students and the Health and Human Resource department to reach low-income families at high risk of illiteracy.

The third to fifth grade demographic is harder to reach, Smith said, adding STEAM activities at the library can connect to literacy and foster a love for reading.

Book clubs and promotion of homework help services at the library are other ways to promote early literacy, Smith said.