Meet Spencer Stevens, Shirley’s new assistant librarian

New Shirley librarian Spencer Stevens (right) points out spaces on the calendar that he and library director Deb Roy (left) hope will soon include more programs and events geared to grown-ups, a gap that Roy sought to close when she carved out the new position after a staff member retired.

SHIRLEY — The Hazen Memorial Library is a welcoming place for all ages, stocked with books, periodicals and other media. There are computers, comfy chairs, tables to work on and well-lit spaces.

The children’s room offers play areas, toys and books. And with a youth services librarian in charge of programs and events designed to attract and engage young people, the tot to teen group is well served.

So what’s missing from this picture? At a glance, nothing. But as public libraries continue to shape-shift to keep pace with technology, changing times, tastes and demographics, Shirley Library Director Deb Roy pinpointed a gap in the continuum. Programs and services geared specifically to adults.

“We had lots of children’s programs,” Roy said. But relatively few for adults.

So when a longtime staffer retired, she saw an opportunity to carve out a new position, with no impact on the budget. Two months ago, Spencer Stevens became the new adult services librarian.

So far, it looks like a fine fit.

The help-wanted ad Roy put out spells out the particulars. Qualifications were rigorous and on-point. The applicant must have more to offer than a bachelor’s degree, which was the first item on the list.

Besides being available to work whenever the library is open, the new hire should bring a varied skills set, be tactful, have a good sense of humor and be able to lift up to 30 pounds. Among other things.

Stevens wasn’t daunted by the hefty job description. It was just what he’d been looking for, he said, a small library where he could work independently, flex his skills and make a difference.

He’d worked as a part-time library assistant in Northboro and in West Boylston, where he lives, Stevens said in a recent interview. But this is his first full-time position in his chosen field.

Stevens obtained his undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and is currently enrolled at Simmons College, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science.

He started out as a classics and film major, but the library bug bit him after he volunteered at the Worcester Historical Museum library. He was already into history, he said, especially ancient history and Latin and he worked in that area during his senior year at Brandeis.

Library degree programs are not typically offered at the undergrad level, but that could change.

“It’s a growing field,” he said.

In the past a degree wasn’t required to be a librarian, but it is now.

“It’s pretty competitive, definitely a big change,” he said.

So what kinds of books does he read, and how do his tastes affect his book orders for the library?

A shipment just came in, he said, showing a cart of books he’d just unpacked, ready to shelve. Titles included “Little Fires” by Celeste Ing; the latest version of “The Joy of Cooking”; travel books and celebrity biographies.

Choosing fiction can be tricky, trying to keep up with “popular stuff,” he said, picking through the multitudes of titles on the best-seller lists and beyond. All on a budget.

He likes fantasy novels and hopes to integrate more into the library’s collection, he said.

His focus now is on what grown-ups would like the library to offer, and not just books but programs, events and activities.

It’s all part of “the evolution of libraries,” he said. These days, libraries are community centers, too, and this one is no exception.

People come in to use the computers, kids hang out after school.

“It’s how we remain relevant,” Stevens said.

And people don’t just borrow books, music and movies any more. A recent order included puzzles, for example. It can be challenging, keeping track of the pieces, but it’s a trend, Stevens said.

Another popular item is musical instruments, ukuleles in particular. The library has three in stock, all bar coded.

“A lot of libraries have them, they are really popular,” Stevens said. Each ukelele comes with a beginner’s guide and a tuner, “like a starter set,” he said. The loan-out period is three weeks.

“We call it our library of things,” Stevens said.

As for the books, newer nonfiction includes celebrity memoirs: figure skater Adam Rippon; Julie Andrews; Demi Moore; former defense secretary Jim Mattis; and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s new book, “Gutsy Women.” The latest order included “a ton” of titles like these, he said.

Research comes with the territory. Stevens knows where to look and what to look for, perusing library publications to see what’s new in the book market. He also keeps an eye on what other libraries order and is always on the lookout for “popular items in our area,” he said.

Then there’s the adult programs survey he helped Roy put together, seeking input, feedback and suggestions from the community.

It asks, for example, what kinds of programs people prefer, with choices. The checklist includes classes, workshops, lectures and panel discussions on a specific theme or topic, book clubs, writers groups and social gatherings.

Doling out a dozen options, the survey asks which programs residents would like to see more of at the library. Options included book clubs, movies, knitting circles, genealogy workshops, local author panels, writing groups. The list also includes outdoor activities such as hiking, holiday or seasonal programs, yoga and exercise classes.

Book lovers in search of a book club are asked to weigh in on favorite genres. It also asks when people would be most likely to come to a program and includes space for suggestions.

Contact the library at shirley@cwars.org or 978-425-2620 or go to www.shirleylibrary.org for more information and library hours. Better yet, drop by the library, located in the municipal complex off Hospital Road. You might want to pick up a survey, browse awhile, take home a borrowed book or choose an item from the “library of things.” Maybe a ukulele?

You might also want to meet the new assistant librarian in charge of adult services, Spencer Stevens.