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Chester County Press

Kennett Library hires new director

11/16/2021 03:53PM ● By Richard Gaw

Courtesy photo               Christopher Manna was recently named as the new director of the Kennett Library.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

The Kennett Library Board of Trustees recently announced that they have hired Christopher Manna as the new director of the Kennett Library.

“Chris was chosen after a national search for the director position, and we feel he is a perfect fit for the Kennett Library,” said Jeff Yetter, President of the Board. “He comes with years of experience in a variety of library settings and has been a part of several library building projects.

“We are very excited about Chris’s joining the Kennett Library team and getting him involved with our community. He will be an asset to the current library and, most especially, to the new Kennett Library & Resource Center as its director.”

Manna, who replaces former director Megan Walters and will begin his new job on Nov. 22, began his career in 1999 in the libraries at the University of Maryland and John Hopkins University. In 2013, he worked as a national Library Solution Consultant, helping libraries develop new methods for increasing services.

In 2016, he joined the Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma, where he worked as its Information Services Manager before becoming the manager of the Moore, Oklahoma 35,000 square foot library. Chris has been a part of three library building projects during his time in Oklahoma, including a $30 million, 50,000 square foot library, which will break ground in 2022. 

Manna’s arrival at Kennett Library dovetails with the start of the library’s largest project to date: the new Kennett Library & Resource Center, a two-floor, 33,245 square-foot facility on State Street in Kennett Square that is in the very beginning stages of construction.

Slated for completion in December of 2022, the new library will include a 110-seat auditorium and stage, maker spaces for adults and children, 15 meeting rooms, and an outdoor terrace.

Designed as a community center for the southern Chester County region, the new building will enable the library to expand its successful adult literacy programs; create new opportunities for student and on-line learning; provide additional multicultural programs; showcase local artistic talent in a gallery space; as well as sponsor a full calendar of community events.

“One of the golden rules I heard from a director friend of mine was any time you are new to a position, you need to observe for a period of 90 days to six months,” he said. “I have always believed that my job as a director is to help facilitate each staff member’s excellence in their job. While I am not the one implementing boots on the ground initiatives, I am the one helping to facilitate those initiatives, so I ask them to bring me their big ideas and let me make the call in making make their ideas successful.”

Manna said that much of this leadership approach comes from his attendance at the Harwood Institute program offered by the American Library Association in 2018 that works on building trust and transparency with the community.

“Ultimately, it comes back to me being able to listen to the staff, their being able to provide me with feedback and me going back to the community and saying, ‘Here is what I am hearing. What are you hearing?’ in an effort to tile all of our ideas together.”

A rising tide raises all ships’

Manna said that he inherits a library whose Adult Literacy Program has to date helped more than 8,000 learners prepare for testing for American citizenship and the general equivalency diploma.

“Coming from Oklahoma where one in four adults are illiterate, that really hit me hard,” he said. “One of the struggles we had in Oklahoma from a literacy standpoint was that we offered the same kinds of programs but had nowhere near the success rates that the Kennett Library has.

“The number of people who have graduated from these programs is wonderful, and that is the kind of impact that a library can have on a community. As they say, a rising tide raises all ships, and if we are to go anywhere as a community and as a country, we need to help those who cannot necessarily raise themselves up, and opportunities like this are how we’re going to help that.”

Manna said that a major reason for taking an interest in pursuing his new position is now something he looks forward to doing: folding himself and the Kennett Library within Kennett Square’s strong and ever-evolving community fabric.

“This is the same feeling we had in Oklahoma,” said Manna, a Baltimore native whose wife Karen’s family lives near Kennett Square. “It was very community based and we all got to know each other there, and I loved that sense of home. To hear those I interviewed with at the Kennett Library describe the Kennett community in the same way resonated with me.

“We want our community partners to know that they can come to the Kennett Library and know that we will walk side by side with them as they push forward their own agendas, because the more we can all be on the same page, the better, because this is that kind of community.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].