Person of the Week
Shauna DeStefano: Meet the New Assistant Director
Soon after Shauna DeStefano stepped up to the position of assistant director of library services at the North Haven Memorial Library, the COVID pandemic threw everything into chaos. She and her colleagues have been finding creative ways to keep connected and useful to the community ever since. (Photo courtesy of Shauna DeStefano )
Earlier this year—shortly before word of the COVID pandemic began hitting the news—positive changes were quietly taking place at the North Haven Memorial Library. In January, Shauna DeStefano was promoted to the position of assistant director of library services.
Shauna, a North Branford native, began her career at the library in October 2017, after a 12-year stint working at Gateway Community College.
“I started [at Gateway] officially as a library associate,” Shauna recalls, while she was completing her master’s degree in library science.
At the same time, she obtained her professional library experience working part-time at the James Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford. Earning that library job experience at the Blackstone reclassified her as a fully fledged librarian.
Becoming a librarian wasn’t the first career Shauna had in mind, however.
“When I started college, I thought I wanted to be a teacher,” she recalls. “So, I started that route, and I did a double major program: education and library science. Then I got off track with the education, so I concentrated on the library science degree. I thought I’d go back and finish my education degree at a later date, but that never happened.”
It’s not surprising that Shauna forestalled her plans to become a teacher, considering her parentage.
“I grew up with a mother who was a librarian in North Branford, so I was constantly at the library with her, participating in all the programs, going to get books, and just to visit with my mother,” Shauna says. “It was always a nice place to go, and it seemed she had a really nice job, worked for really nice people, and I thought, ‘I could probably do this.’”
Of that first associate librarian job at Gateway, Shauna says, “It was a good crossover for me between education and wanting to teach, because you do a lot of educating as a librarian, especially in an academic environment. You’re showing people how to utilize the resources and access the databases.”
Shauna also had the first of her two children—a son—while working at Gateway.
“I would work at Gateway and then at Blackstone one night a week,” when maternity leave forced her to step down from Blackstone.
Yet, it was her time at Blackstone that made Shauna realize her future was in public library service versus continuing a career in the academic library world.
When Shauna made her career move to North Haven in 2017, she was hired to become the reference librarian, a position she filled with vigor until personnel changes opened the promotion opportunity to the assistant director position.
Shauna didn’t have much time in her new role before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived like a blizzard, changing the lives of everyone in its path. In reaction, the library closed its doors to await the governor’s phased reopening of commerce in the state.
“The first day we closed to the public was March 13, and we’ve been closed to the public ever since,” Shauna says. “Full time staff has been at the library since it was closed, working on various projects and helping people [remotely] with resources.”
The North Haven Memorial Library is part of the Lion Consortium (Libraries Online Incorporated), and Shauna says that her supervisor, Library Director Susan Griffiths, meets regularly with the directors of other public libraries.
“They have a weekly meeting on Zoom to talk about what’s going on and how to stay on the same page,” Shauna says about opening up library services to the town in lock-step with what other libraries in the area are doing. “Every library is different and working under different circumstances, but we are in communication with other area libraries quite a bit, like Wallingford and Hamden, to see when we can re-open to the public.”
In the meantime, as many businesses begin re-opening, Shauna says the North Haven Library has already restarted no-contact pickup (as of June 22) for the loaning of books, DVDs, and other available materials.
One of the most off-putting effects of the pandemic shut-down and social distancing requirements is how the social aspect of public libraries have been adversely affected. Gone are the days of the hush-hush library where the loudest sound was the turning of book and magazine pages, and the occasional cough.
“It’s more like a community center at this point,” Shauna says of the modern library environment.
Yet, during the time of shutdown, still going to work at the library every day—and not seeing anyone but coworkers—is something Shauna is still trying to get used to.
“It’s very interesting,” she says. “It’s something most of us never thought would happen. It’s an interesting time and it’s challenging for everyone. Our biggest concern with reopening will be keeping the staff safe and keeping the public safe.
“I think library services will be different from here on out,” Shauna continues. “We’ve had to halt a lot of our programming, but in the meanwhile we’ve been doing virtual programs for the public on-line through Zoom, for both children and adults, and it’s nice to see people—some of the familiar faces—even if it is just virtually.
“We would love to run in-person programs but we don’t know when that will happen,” Shauna says. “Even when re-open to people coming in for resources, the in-person programs probably won’t happen for a while longer.
“We really miss seeing patrons face-to-face, catching up, seeing how they are doing, how their families are doing,” Shauna says. “When you don’t get to see them, you’re wondering how everybody is. At least with the Zoom programs, we can see people. We spend the first 5 or 10 minutes of every Zoom program checking in to see how everyone is doing, if anyone has been affected by COVID, how they’ve been affected, so it’s good to catch up and chat.”