The future of East Baton Rouge Parish Library: Chatting with new director Katrina Stokes

Katrina Stokes

During Katrina Stokes’ childhood, books meant a new adventure with every turn of the page. She knew no matter where she was in the world, the library was her home. Being a part of a military family meant picking up and moving to a foreign place every couple of years. While having to make new friends in so many places was tough, Stokes knew each move would introduce her to a new library. 

“Libraries were the big source of comfort, because to me that was a constant—everything else would change,” Stokes says. “But libraries, the building itself might be different, but it’s full of books and awesome librarians who want to help you find the book you want. So that was always my safe space when I was a kid.”

And last month, Stokes’ love for libraries brought her to a new position: director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. Stokes brings more than seven years of experience as director of the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where she worked her way up from an assistant director position. 

In Baton Rouge, she hopes to create a safe and collaborative space for all. 

She’s starting with getting to know her staff at the Main Library—making them feel heard and supported—while also making visits to the other locations. She says she wants to get to know the people working at the libraries and the communities of people who frequent each branch. She says EBRPL was doing great things before she got there, and her goal is to support the team in any way she can. She’s keeping communication open between the different branches, soliciting feedback on what needs attention so she can help create solutions. 

“Change can be good, but it’s not going to happen if you don’t get buy-in from the people who support you,” Stokes says. 

Stokes also hopes to improve experiences for library patrons. A library should be a place where people can just exist, she says, and she wants them to consistently feel welcomed from the second they walk in. 

“Making sure people understand that you’re fine to come in and use the library—there’s no need to explain your presence there,” she says. “We want people to come in and feel comfortable.” 

Stokes is looking into establishing new programs for struggling communities, providing services like lunches for children during the summer while they are out of school and ensuring residents access to up-to-date technology. 

One of her first big projects will be the opening of the new South Branch Library, located near Sprouts Farmers Market on Perkins Road. Construction started last year with an estimated winter 2024 completion. Stokes says she is looking forward to building on her experience with furnishing libraries from her previous job in Vicksburg. 

“Very, very happy that we can put a library branch in a spot where it’s really needed,” Stokes says. 

While Stokes spent so much of her childhood in a library, becoming a librarian never crossed her mind. But around two decades ago, she saw an article about the growing scarcity of librarians. She decided to go back to school to pursue this path. It’s a journey that’s been full of surprises, including moving to become the director of EBRPL—which has a much larger staff and more libraries than her previous position. 

“I’ve never been afraid of going to a new place. Because that’s pretty much what I did growing up,” Stokes says.

She says she knew this new role would be a big undertaking. But she says she is not intimidated and is jumping into the position and getting straight to work. 

“I’d like to say thank you to everybody I’ve met so far. Everybody has been so welcoming and so kind. I’m very quickly getting to love Baton Rouge,” she says. “I thought it was a great city when I first arrived, and I’ve just grown to like it more and more every day.”