Summit County’s new library director reminds us of what makes libraries so special

Stephanie Ralph, the new director for Summit County libraries, at the main library branch in Frisco, March 27.
Hugh Carey /

In advance of national library week, Summit County has hired a new library director who will oversee operations and programming at the county’s three library branches in Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne.

Stephanie Ralph takes the helm of Summit County’s libraries after serving as Grand County’s library director for six years. Ralph was a Grand County resident for 17 years, so she is familiar with the High Country, the people who live here and the need many have to connect with literature and the rest of the world.

“I think libraries in mountain towns have a very specific and wonderful role,” Ralph said. “They’re very much the beating heart of a community, a public place where everyone can come and be welcome, and have access to an entire world of information.”

Ralph sees libraries as bastions of democracy; places where regular people can go and get any information they want, without filters and without hindrance.

“In this country, libraries are a true democratic privilege,” Ralph said.

“They are about supporting people in the ability to be whatever they want to be, to realize whoever they want to be, no questions asked. It’s a remarkable instrument to help people self-realize.”

Ralph remembers how a shudder went out through the library world a decade ago, when the internet was seen as the downfall of the free public library. With a wealth of information in the palm of your hand, why would someone bother going to the library to find information, or even pick up an actual book?

As it turns out, the report of the library’s demise was greatly exaggerated.

“Libraries are really good to adapting to the needs and climate they operate in,” Ralph said. “They have reinvented themselves as community hubs. We have a huge amount of community programming to bring people to the library.”

Among the programming available at the three Summit County branches are summer reading programs for children, teens and adults, as well as story time for children, and special programs with guest speakers.

One such program took place this week. “Skiing Off to War,” the story of the birth of the 10th Mountain Division was presented by Col. Tom Duhs USMC (retired). Ralph said that 60 to 70 community members came out to see the presentation, showing the yearning for knowledge we all share.

She also noted that aside from the practical advantages of a free public library — the ability to access thousands of books, newspapers and magazines, both at the library and online, as well as media like movies and music, and the programming — libraries also serve as a very important space for people to study and focus on work without the obligation to spend any money.

While the stereotype of a “shushing librarian” is ingrained in our culture, Ralph said it was important to understand that they are performing an important task — as gatekeepers of a special kind of sanctuary who must protect the peace.

“When you go into a library, there’s this library hum, a sort of noise generated by people doing focused work and getting along,” Ralph said. “Something libraries often have to deal with is to get people of different demographic groups to a place where they can work respectfully with each other.”

Looking forward to the summer, Ralph reminds parents of the importance of the library’s reading programs to avoid the dreaded “summer slump” when a child’s reading ability stagnates and even drops off.

“Kids start reading in schools and stop in summer, and during that break their reading levels can go back as much as a grade,” Ralph said. “What libraries encourage kids to do is carry on reading during the summer to maintain and improve their reading skills.”

National library week takes place from April 7 to 13. During that time, Summit County’s libraries will replace lost library cards for free and host contests for prizes such as a “Pets Caught Reading” competition, among other activities.

Ralph will also attend “Coffee with the Director” gatherings at all three branches next week where patrons will be able to meet the new director and learn about her vision for Summit’s library system.

The coffee talks will take place from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on Monday, April 8, at the Main Library located at 37 Peak One Drive in Frisco; on Thursday, April 11, at the South Branch located at 103 S. Harris St. in Breckenridge; and on Friday, April 12, at the North Branch located at 651 Center Circle in Silverthorne.

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