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Pang Yang, a self-described "library kid," grew up devouring books from her local library branch.

This month, she was named director of the Ramsey County Library, which has seven branches in suburban Ramsey County and more than 100 employees.

Yang spent 17 years with the St. Paul Public Library before joining Ramsey's system during the COVID-19 pandemic. As deputy director, she helped guide the system through the pandemic and eliminate late fees.

At Tuesday's Ramsey County Board meeting, commissioners praised Yang for navigating a complex time for the system. Yang assumed leadership duties after former director Jake Grussing resigned in 2022 after less than six months on the job. Last year, the system's governance structure changed when the library board was made an advisory board.

The Star Tribune caught up with Yang this week as she takes on her new title.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You've been in libraries for two decades. How did you get your start?

A: I was a library kid, and so when my parents worked two jobs after school, I would just head to the library. Then I started volunteering at the library and I was like, 'Hey, I should get a job at the library.' I continued to work my way up.

The reason I stuck with it is because libraries can be whatever you want. If you want it to be a place to learn about space and dinosaurs, it can be that place for you. If you want it to be about learning about your family, it can be that place for you. If you want it to be a place where you build community, it can be that place for you.

We don't expect anyone to pay a membership. We don't expect anyone to check in with us before using any of the resources, and that's important.

Q: At the county board meeting yesterday, they praised your work surrounding equity in the library system. Can you talk a little bit about that work and why it's important?

A: I think about what the library was for me, in terms of trying to understand my own identity and how I navigated society. The library helped ground me and my multiple identities. I lived through significant poverty. Living through that and being a product of refugees, with parents who worked a lot, I sort of found myself in the library. It helped me learn so much about myself and so much about other people, and it helped me grow. I think that libraries have the opportunity to be the great equalizer.

A: What's going on at the library that people should know about?

Q: We have a summer reading program for children, and then we also have a teen summer reading program, starting June 1. That's always our big push during the summer, so that there's no gap in literacy.

We have maker spaces at three of our libraries now. We encourage you to come in, explore, see what we have that you can use.

We also have the Library of Things. You can borrow cooking stuff, crafting stuff. A lot of people come in and say "I want to learn how to knit, but I'm not ready to commit." So borrow our knitting needles, borrow crochet needles, see if it's for you. We have snow shoes in the fall, we have park passes, we have a pickleball set.

We have seed libraries at two of our libraries. That's something I'm very passionate about.

(The calendar for library events, including activities and programs for all ages, can be found here.)

Q: As the now-director, do you have major plans for the library?

A: There are so many things that I want to do, but I don't think any of it could be done without partnership. And so I think that the first thing I'm going to do is continue to engage with community, to see how we can continue to be responsive.

Q: What's a book you're reading or like to recommend to people?

A: One of my favorite books that I would recommend is Jesmyn Ward's "Sing, Unburied Sing." It explores intergenerational history. It talks about slavery and the experiences of this family lineage. It was just beautifully written and it's heartbreaking at the same time, but it also feels very intimate. It's a book that tore my heart apart but also — I think a lot about that book.