The Johnson County Library Foundation’s new executive director brings a wealth of fundraising and advocacy experience to the job. She also brings qualities that may be even more important: a boundless curiosity and a deep appreciation for libraries as part of the soul of a community.
Shelley O’Brien started her new job in March, succeeding Stephanie Stollsteimer, who retired. In her previous position as a fundraising consultant for the Northeast Kansas Library System, O’Brien championed libraries in this region and had already worked closely with Stollsteimer and board members as a facilitator to update the Foundation’s strategic plan.
So O’Brien was familiar with how vibrant the Foundation already is, in its mission to help Johnson County Library build its collection, lifelong learning resources and programming beyond what taxpayer dollars provide. Her goal is to raise the Foundation’s profile even higher and to forge even greater partnerships throughout the community.
“The Library and Foundation are excellent, and I want to build on that and bring more people into the fold,” she said. “We want to communicate more with the donors who support the Foundation about how we are investing their money. That to me is very important, showing the impact it has on Johnson County.”
Growing up in Blue Springs, O’Brien loved going to her local library and became a voracious reader. She enjoyed public speaking on the debate team in high school and at the University of Kansas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies.
After college she worked for the KU endowment and other organizations in Lawrence and Kansas City before she moved to Washington D.C. In the nation’s capital, she did fundraising for national advocacy non-profits, including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Recreation and Park Association.
While in Washington, O’Brien was an enthusiastic library volunteer through the Junior League, and that helped launch her on a new career path. In 2018, she became the first fundraiser on the Prince George’s County Memorial Library system staff. At night and on weekends, she pursued a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University, graduating in December 2021.
After years in Washington, O’Brien craved a return to the Kansas City area, so she was glad to accept the Northeast Kansas Library position in October 2021.
Now at the Foundation, O’Brien is working on its signature event, Library Lets Loose, scheduled for September 23. O’Brien and the development department have many other ideas for the Foundation, including highlighting volunteer opportunities and expanding philanthropic and corporate connections.
O’Brien also values how different libraries can work together for mutual benefit. To that end, she has a website, I Love My Kansas Library, that promotes library impacts on local economies throughout the state.
O’Brien also loves sports. She served on the U.S. Olympics nominating committee for eight years and is always up for attending a sporting event.
“I am not an athlete but I value sports and teamwork,” she said. “I learned so much about the importance of strong leadership and working together.”
She’s a big fan of the Royals, Chiefs and the Kansas City Current women’s soccer team. “I am grateful that the Royals Charities support the Library Foundation and our children’s programs,” she said. “I hope we can work with all the KC sports teams in some way.”
The new job seems full of possibilities. “I want Johnson County to have outstanding Libraries, where we see innovation taking place every day. That is thrilling to me,” O’Brien said. “I can see where parents would be so excited that their children and teenagers are getting to experience this. That fuels my work. That fuels me.”
Learn how the Johnson County Library Foundation supports lifelong learning resources at jocolibraryfoundation.org. You can help make an impact in the community by making a donation of any size. Early bird tickets are also available now for Library Lets Loose, your opportunity to party in the stacks after-hours.
Johnson County Library – Nurturing the Community’s Collective Wisdom