Kimberly Johnson Has Long-Time Love of Libraries

Managing Editor

LIBRARY LOYALIST: Tulsa City-County Library CEO Kimberly Johnson assumed the leadership helm in January, replacing previous CEO Gary Shaffer. Johnson, a New York native, has worked for the Tulsa library system since 1998.

Courtesy photo

Editor’s Note: Tulsa City-County Library Kimberly Johnson is one of Greater Tulsa Reporter’s “10 People to Watch in 2017,” as announced in its January 2017 issue.

As a self-proclaimed lifetime library user, it is only fitting that Kimberly Johnson would devote her professional life to improving a library system.

“The library has always played a special role in my life,” she says.

Johnson, who assumed the helm as Tulsa City-County Library chief executive officer at the beginning of the year, has been with the Tulsa library system since 1998, when she was originally hired as coordinator of the African-American Resource Center at Rudisill Regional Library.

From there, she has held various positions, including library manager, regional director and chief operating officer. Johnson also oversaw the preparation and opening of Librarium.

“Librarium was a project that allowed us to test many of our ideas of ways to address the 21st-century library user,” says Johnson, a New York native.

That quality of consistently looking at ways to further the library’s effectiveness in meeting community needs, Johnson feels, summarizes her aim with the library and the goals of her staff, many of whom have been with the organization for decades, just like Johnson.

“Our staff is passionate about our communities; they want the right books in the hands of the right people,” she says.

Johnson had an early experience during her school years with a librarian named Miss Sperling, who impacted her love of books.

“She was welcoming and challenged students to read at the next level,” Johnson says.
“At the Tulsa City-County Library, I feel like I’m surrounded by Miss Sperlings.”

Johnson’s love of books led her to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa in secondary education and English literature with her plan being to teach literature.

Although the library was not in her original plans, after reading the description for the job opening of coordinator of the African-American Resource Center at Rudisill Regional Library, a newly created position with the library system, she felt that the position lined up well with her skills and her educational background.

Regarding her professional goals, Johnson always knew that she would pursue a career that allowed her to serve.

“I do my job in service to others: what better place to do that than here at the library?” she says.

During her time as coordinator, Johnson created the historical All-Black Towns Bus Tour, which has continued to run every summer since 1999. The tour shines a light on Oklahoma’s history as having one of the highest number of all-black towns in the country between 1865 and 1915.

Once Johnson began with the library, “I felt like I had found my place,” she says. “The library was a natural fit for me.”

She later earned her master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in library and information studies.

Johnson’s later jobs with the library put her in management roles, which allowed her to focus on more than serving solely the community but also library employees, she says.
Since Johnson took over as in January, she has made it a goal to visit each library location within the library system.

She completed all of her visits earlier in the year and is currently on her second round.
“My visits allow me to see what our staff is dealing with and how we can improve,” she says.

Also, in the past six months, library staff has hosted library systems from Frisco, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

Johnson credits the library’s array of cutting-edge offerings as reason for the attention.
“Our library system is something that our customers can be proud of,” she says. “We are a model system for the country because of our offerings.”

Those offerings include maker spaces, digital literacy labs, audio labs, movies, music, books, spaces for community gatherings—“Think about the value of a library card, that all of these services are free with the card,” says Johnson.

Additionally, the library remains connected with the local schools to provide books for them. The library system has been a part of Books to Treasure for 15 years, a program sponsored by the Zarrow Family Foundation that gives a book to each Tulsa-area second-grader followed by a visit and book signing by the book’s author.

During summer 2017, the library saw 52,000 participants in its summer reading program.

“We are creating a more literate community,” she says.

Another benefit of reading?

“Books open up new worlds. They evoke empathy and compassion and help make the world better.”

Spoken like a true book, and library, lover.

Updated 12-05-2017

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