Director & CEO
St. Louis County Library
Location: St. Louis, MO
Industry: Public Library
In 2013, Kristen Sorth became the first woman to serve as director and CEO of the St. Louis County Library District. She helms the district's 20 branches, 600 employees and a $58 million annual budget and is committed to pushing the organization beyond its traditional role as a source for books and information.
During her tenure, Sorth has stressed the importance of building strong community partnerships. She is masterful at recognizing the needs of the community and responding with impactful programs. Together with its community partners, the St. Louis County Library (SLCL) has provided essential services, such as meals, period supplies, diapers, technology, tutoring, vaccines and rental assistance, at its branches.
One groundbreaking program is the Tap In Center (TIC), which provides free legal assistance and connects justice-involved individuals with local support services. The TIC offers an approachable environment for people to get back in good standing with the courts without fear of arrest.
In 2022, an SLCL partnership brought social workers into select branches, addressing barriers to social services support, providing trusted referrals to other community partners and equipping library employees to handle crisis situations.
To address education and literacy barriers, SLCL offers programs such as Excel Adult High School, which gives participants the opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma and career-based education. To date, 98 adults have graduated from the program, opening up new opportunities to thrive.
“I have taken on many roles, responsibilities and projects that I had to figure out along the way,” Sorth said. “My approach is to start with ‘yes’ to things that benefit the library and the community and work backward from there.”
In addition to those community services, Sorth spearheaded a 10-year, $120 million capital improvement project, known as Your Library Renewed, to replace or renovate all 20 facilities while elevating the library as a hub for lifelong learning. During this period of construction, SLCL remained the busiest library in Missouri. Buildings that were once dark and uninviting became brighter, welcoming, more interactive and a gathering place for the community.
Since she became director and CEO, Sorth and the SLCL have received numerous awards recognizing them for their work and dedication to the community, their partnerships and their design innovations. But out of all of the awards, the one Sorth said she is most proud of is the 2022 National Medal for Museum and Library Service given by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The award is one of the nation’s highest honors given to museums and libraries that demonstrate significant impact in their communities.
Kristen has a love for butterflies and gardens with native plants to attract them to her yard. She monitors the monarchs that visit and the number of caterpillars on her plants and has even raised monarchs and released them. She has seen over 20 varieties of butterflies in her garden and occasionally shares her passion in her "5 Things to Know" staff email updates.