Every morning, Mary Stein drinks one cup of Community Coffee, leisurely reads the whole newspaper, and jams to rock ‘n’ roll music in her car on the way to work. But talk to the Assistant Director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library for five minutes and your would think Stein drank a pot of coffee, speed-read the paper and listened to Bollywood on her way to work.
She has that much energy.
When she talks, she speaks with her hands, and her delight with her job travels all the way from her mouth to the tip of her fingers, nearly resulting in jazz hands when finishing a thought.
Stein was instrumental in the design and development of the new Main Library on Goodwood Boulevard. She is proud of her work “birthing this baby,” and admits she’s “the pushy green light” to her staff’s collaborative ideas.
She is like the Music Man’s Harold Hill, but unlike Hill, Stein can produce what she promises.
“That image of a quiet lady with the bun, yeah, that’s me sometimes, but only to keep the hair out of my face,” Stein says. “When you serve so many people—and I’m talking cradle to grave—you always have to be thinking. Look, you can use our library to make money or save money.”
She is proud of the new library’s fruition and even prouder that it came in under budget. As of April, expenditures stood at $41.2 million, nearly $2 million less than the $43 million budget.
“I am proud. Baton Rouge should be proud. Sometimes you don’t know how good you have it until you leave. I believe in my product,” she says. “We have a good product.”
The 57-year-old loves to brainstorm with staff and says some of the most creative ideas—including celebrating poet Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” with a menu of POE-tatoes, “POE-boys,” and POE-tion to drink—happened during a relaxed meeting.
“Here’s what I always say: If you try it and it doesn’t work, no one dies,” she says. “The best ideas come from when you’re at coffee and tossing ideas around and being ridiculous.”
And she’s excited about one of the staff’s newest idea called Speed Dating in the Stacks.
“It will happen,” Stein promises. “Oh yes, it will happen.”
She is an award-winning innovator. In 1991, she worked with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to create the program Prime Time Family Reading Time, in which a professional storyteller reads stories to children and their parents to promote reading. Her program won awards and is now in 48 states and in several foreign countries.
Stein has worked for the EBR library since 1984. She graduated from LSU with a music degree but found herself drawn to the knowledge, order and organization of a library.
“I did not have the certain something you need to make it in the music business,” says Stein, who has a master’s degree in library science. “I did enjoy traveling, but I did not enjoy living out of a suitcase. I wanted something more traditional. I started spending more time in the library, and I was comfortable there.”
When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband, sons and grandchild as well as singing in the choir at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. She’s also fond of sewing and eating at one of her favorite Baton Rouge restaurants.
But her home for the last year has been between the stacks.
“The library is the true demos,” she says, invoking the Greek for “the people.”
“If you aren’t learning, you aren’t alive.”