Jeri Kay Hopkins’ love for reading started at such an early age and was so intense, there wasn’t anything in the Laurel Public Library that her eyes hadn’t seen by the time she finished high school.
“Sometimes I would even read the encyclopedias because I read everything in the library,” she recalled, with a bit of a laugh, of the admittedly small library in her hometown about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Columbus.
“I can’t remember when I didn’t read. I’m sure my parents read to me when I was little because I remember all of the library books. I read every book in our library that was age-appropriate by the time I graduated high school. I just read constantly.”
Fast forward to May 2023, Hopkins’ love for reading has come full circle as she has been hired as the new director of the Columbus Public Library. City Administrator Tara Vasicek said she’s excited to have Hopkins join the City of Columbus team, noting her background.
“She has a proven track record,” Vasicek said. “She comes from a library director position and has a lot of great ideas on engaging with the community.”
After graduating from Laurel-Concord High School, Hopkins went on to earn a Bachelor of Science from Wayne State College. She maintained her love for reading and libraries, though actually began a successful eight-year career in 1996 as an attorney in Wausa, Nebraska, focusing on business, contracts, real estate, estate planning and tax law. That time also gave her valuable experience managing a business.
Despite her success, it wasn’t until she was going through the adoption process for her daughter that she was inspired to make a change. Hopkins said her husband helped her realize she wasn’t totally satisfied with her career as an attorney. But she had also been volunteering in various roles at public libraries for years and soon realized she could combine her love for law and reading by becoming a law librarian.
In 2004, she accepted a branch librarian role for the United States Courts Library 8th Circuit in Omaha. There, she was responsible for managing two branch law libraries and staff in an eight-branch system.
In 2016, she became the director of the Independence Public Library in Independence, Kansas. She was responsible for leading an award-winning staff of 12 people with an $800,000 budget, including servant leadership, team development, community connections, facilities management, fundraising, grant writing, policies and procedures, budgeting and reporting to a library board. While there, the library won numerous awards for its service.
Although Hopkins enjoyed her time in Kansas, she said returning to Nebraska was always something she hoped for with much of her family near Columbus, such as in Norfolk and Omaha.
“This position is perfect,” Hopkins said on May 15th, her first official day in the role. “I’m excited to be here.”
Hopkins, who earned her Masters of Library Science from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she was enticed by the position because Columbus is a diverse and growing community. She’s excited to lead the CPL team into the future as it prepares to move into the Columbus Community Building this summer.
“It’s a very exciting time to be here,” she said. “One of my initiatives is to get my staff out working with other organizations. We want to be out and about collaborating with the community.”
To contact Hopkins, call the library at (402) 564-7116.