February 17, 2018

Koren Stembridge | Movers & Shakers 2009 – Marketers

Koren Stembridge, Boston Public LibraryBridge Builder

While serving as programs and youth services manager for the Boston Public Library (BPL), Koren Stembridge learned that schools were hesitant to refer students to the library because so many kids—some 57,000 of them—owed fines for late or lost materials. “I thought, if the teachers won’t encourage kids to use us, who else do we have on the ‘outside’ urging kids to come check us out?” Stembridge says.

She proposed a mass amnesty program with a twist: no atonement and no absolution, just a “New Start” for children and young adults. “Shame is not a particularly helpful emotion for kids,” she says.

The New Start initiative would require forgoing .5 million in late fees, but administrators calculated there was little chance that BPL would ever recover that money anyway. After two years of advocacy, on November 1, 2008, Stembridge saw the policy go into effect. Almost immediately, library staff across the city were reporting that “mothers were coming into the branches crying they were so happy that the kids didn’t have these fines,” she says.

The amnesty program is perhaps the most prominent example of the sophisticated collaborative relationships that Stembridge, recently promoted to director of partnerships and communications, has fostered in her four years at BPL. She’s also developed a unified summer reading program, expanded the homework assistance program, and created a popular grant-funded “drop-in science” program in coordination with the school system. “It was fun, it filled a need, it had buy-in from staff, and it attracted boys to the library,” she says of the now systemwide kit-based service.

“[Stembridge] has the rare ability to build bridges—sensitively, diplomatically, purposefully—among various constituencies: professional, civic, educational,” says BPL president Amy Ryan. “Hers are bridges that ultimately lead to places that benefit the whole community.”


Boston Public Library

POSITION Director of Partnerships and Communications

DEGREE MLS, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 1992

MAKES IT A POINT to compliment random people on the street as part of a “personal random acts of kindness campaign”