March 16, 2018

Kristen Simensen | Movers & Shakers 2018 – Change Agents

Kristen Simensen


Director, Calhoun County Library, St. Matthews, SC


MA, LIS University of South Carolina, 2005; MA TESOL Portland State University, OR, 2003


A prized possession, a Christmas ornament shaped like a toolbox, reminds Simensen in moments of frustration that she has the right tools—she just has to figure out how to use them.

Photo by Tracy Glantz


The Pollinator

Calhoun County Library (CCL) director Kristen Simensen knows how to hook patrons. The library’s pollinator project gives fourth graders an opportunity to study bees up close but connects with adults, too. (“How are our bees?” is a common refrain, Simensen says.)

Sparking community involvement is no mean feat in this rural area, but Simensen is up for the challenge. “I try to design things in such a way that people who might not cross paths get an opportunity to interact and work together.”

That inclusive, enthusiastic attitude is a hallmark of her work. From 2013 to 2014, she spearheaded a literacy project, funded by a Library Services & Technology Act (LSTA) grant administered through the South Carolina State Library (SCSL), that involved 2,100 K–12 students and four schools. Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander briefed educators on producing poetry lesson plans and visited the schools, helping students with their writing. The schools held quarterly events honoring those who had read four or more books, four anthologies of poetry and artwork by 1,600 students were published, and the initiative concluded with a standing room only poetry reading at the library.

The project resonated. Over the next year, patrons besieged Simensen with requests for similar activities aimed at adults. In response, she reached out to seven other county libraries, and the South Carolina New Writers Partnership was born. All eight hosted writing workshops run by novelist C. Hope Clark and others, reaching about 1,000 adults and teens.

A savvy researcher, Simensen blended analytic skills with her passion for serving patrons as she applied for another grant and oversaw a detailed needs assessment before the project kicked off. “Numbers don’t just speak for themselves; a narrative is needed,” says nominator Kathy Sheppard, director of library development at SCSL, which administered the grants. “Kristen has identified the people and their stories, while pulling the necessary facts, figures, and statistics that help to make the case for funding.”

Despite hurdles such as a rapidly declining population and economic stagnation, Simensen is committed to supporting Calhoun County. “We need to do everything we can to empower individuals, families, organizations, and businesses, even those who may never come into the library,” she says.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Heather McCue says:

    Congratulations to Kristen! She is an amazing force for good in her community and in our state. We are so very lucky to have her here in SC.

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