The new director of the Kanawha County Public Library is a librarian for the 21st century. She loves a good story.
“I read mostly science fiction,” Erika Connelly said over the phone as her family packed up the last of their things in Morgantown for the move to Charleston a few weeks ago.
“I like some of the classics — Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert and Michael Crichton, if he counts,” she said.
Crichton wrote “Jurassic Park,” “Timeline,” “Westworld” and “The Andromeda Strain.” Connelly said she’s also a huge Stephen King fan.
But as much as she enjoys books, Connelly loves technology — and the challenge of finding new ways to use it. At her last job, as director of the Marion County Library, Connelly said she worked on a voice-assistance program with Amazon. Users could check out materials, place holds and list upcoming events at their local library by using their Alexa-enabled device.
“You could connect your library to your voice-assisted device,” she said. “It was past testing and into implementation when I left.”
Connelly also loves video games, which she said are just another way to tell stories. She said she prefers online role-playing games, such as Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars, as well as puzzle games. Through these games, Connelly has made friends around the world.
“Most of my friend base is in the U.K., Australia and Brazil,” she said.
Playing video games also was how she met her husband, Graham Connelly, who lived in Northern Ireland. After a long courtship, the pair married last year.
“The internet is such a wonderful and awful and scary place all at one time,” she said. “But it makes it possible to make connections around the world.”
While many of her friends live across the ocean or on the other side of the world, Connelly said she still sees herself as a West Virginia girl. Born and raised in Clarksburg, Connelly said she started down the path of library science more through her personal quirks and obsessions than because of a love of books, although she does love a good book.
“I think it helps if you love to read to begin with,” she said of becoming a librarian. “You have to love stories.”
But what she loved more than books was organization and making sure everything was in its place. As a senior at Washington Irving High School, Connelly served as a chemistry assistant and a student library assistant.
“I have a little bit of an OCD tendency,” she said. “I like things to be color coded and ordered, and I think that led to my transition into libraries with my love of books and my love of games.”
After graduating high school in 1990, Connelly went to Fairmont State College as a history major.
“My first year, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with a history degree,” she said. “I’m great at remembering these dates, these people and a wonderful string of battles. But what am I supposed to do with it?”
She began taking library science courses as an elective minor and eventually changed her major to language arts. She got her first library job in 1996 and worked as a library clerk in West Union. By the end of her time in Doddridge County, she had entered into a master’s degree program for library information science that was offered virtually through the University of South Carolina.
“There wasn’t — and still isn’t — a similar program in West Virginia,” Connelly said.
In 1998, Connelly was named director of the Taylor County Library in Grafton, where she remained until 2004, when she took over at Marion County. She said all those years working as a librarian at small, rural libraries helped prepare her for her latest challenge.
“You do everything,” Connelly said of her time at small libraries. “You are the children’s librarian. You are the acquisitions librarian. You’re the janitor and the groundskeeper. Doing those things, I sort of know the experience of a janitor and what a janitor needs. I know the acquisitions process and the collection-development plan process.”
It’s an exciting time for her to join the KCPL, Connelly said. After years of discussing, planning and fundraising, the county’s main library is finally moving forward with a construction project to update its 100-year-old building on the corner at Capitol and Quarrier streets. The renovations will allow the library to offer more digital services and meet its users’ evolving needs.
“I have a strong technology background,” Connelly said. “The board is very interested in making the new renovation technology heavy.”
Along with helping shepherd the facility’s move into its temporary home in the Charleston Town Center mall, Connelly said part of her job is to champion the library to the public.
“We’re not always good at banging our own drum,” she said. “But libraries are a cornerstone of what makes a community a great place to live.”