New JCPL executive director won’t have to travel far

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Library system promotes director of public services

By Deborah Swearingen

For Donna Walker, there’s just something special about a library.

She was first drawn to libraries as a kid. They became a familiar place to spend time with a good book. As a young adult and mother, libraries became an accessible place filled with important resources.

Now, as the newly hired executive director for Jefferson County Public Library system — the third-largest in Colorado — she continues to recognize the important role libraries play in a community.

“Sometimes, this is just all people have,” Walker said. “ … I think that a library is an essential service for a community.”

After a lengthy hiring process, Walker was selected from a pool of four finalists to replace executive director Pam Nissler, who announced her plans to retire at the end of last year. Walker won’t have to travel far for the new gig. Since 2012, she has served as the library system’s director of public services. Before that, she worked for Arapahoe Libraries.

The longtime JCPL employee knows a lot about the communities served by each of the 10 libraries as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each branch. The southern part of the county, for example, is served only by the Columbine Library, leaving many residents without a nearby library to visit.

Furthermore, Walker brings an understanding of the library’s goals and plans for the future.

“We’ve got a pretty good road map already,” she said. “Everyone on the team has been part of drawing that map, and our community’s been a part of drawing that map.

“By passing the mill levy (in 2015), we could actually get to that place … where we’re refurbishing our buildings, getting more library services where we need them.”

In a library landscape that’s rapidly changing, Walker acknowledges the importance of creating a space that can bring in young people.

“The next generation coming up just have a different expectation for convenience and how the space works,” she said.

To help with this, Jeffco is working to modernize each of its libraries to include more collaborative meeting spaces, and the library system continues to coordinate events, such as the beer-based Stouts and Stories, to appeal to younger generations.

Jeffco Public Library’s board of trustees played an important role in hiring the new executive director. The board hosted a community forum, where library supporters and staff could hear from each of the four finalists. They also conducted in-person interviews with each candidate.

“We’re excited to usher in a new era of leadership at JCPL,” chairwoman Julia Hill-Nichols said in a press release, touting the library system’s “tradition of excellence” and “deep commitment to the community.”

Walker is excited for her new role, which officially begins Sept. 1, and she said she is happy to know the board trusts her to move the library forward. In Walker’s mind, the library system’s success is the real story.

“I’m just kind of a vehicle … to make that happen,” she said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.