In addition to being the birthplace of William Faulkner, New Albany, Mississippi is also known as the “Fair & Friendly City,” and was recently named “Best Southern Small Town” for 2017 by USA Today. It should come as no surprise that New Albany is also the birthplace of one of UA SLIS’s most esteemed and beloved former faculty members, Dr. Annabel Stephens, who has always delivered upon the warm, friendly reputation of her hometown, both in and out of the classroom.
Annabel’s mother was an avid reader who encouraged reading and learning. At the local public library where her great-aunt was librarian, Annabel felt at home and would devour biographies and junior mysteries, like Nancy Drew. In college, she planned to be a teacher, but needed a minor for her degree in English. Knowing her love for reading and libraries, Annabel’s father suggested Library Science as a minor, a field that, surprisingly enough, she adds, she had not even considered. After her first course in reference, Annabel was hooked for a career in librarianship – a decision that changed her life and the lives of so many Library Science students to come. “It was like a treasure hunt,” she said. “I knew this was something I could really do, and that I had something to offer.”
Dr. Annabel Stephens received her MLS from the George Peabody College and a DLS from Columbia University. Before joining the UA SLIS faculty in 1985, Dr. Stephens directed the public library in New Albany and held professional positions with library systems in Tennessee and Alabama, which offered many rewarding experiences, as well as a first-hand understanding of challenges facing public libraries. Dr. Stephens literally “wrote the book” on library planning, The Public Library Planning Process, which was based on her dissertation research. Although she loved public library work, referring to herself as “a public librarian with a doctorate,” Dr. Stephens also cherishes her time working at UA. She believes that SLIS afforded her more influence and opportunities to help public librarians across the state and beyond. Her tenure as a professor and researcher in SLIS allowed her to combine her strengths and work closely with the Alabama Public Library Services as an LSTA council member and advocate.
During her years at UA SLIS, Dr. Stephens received many professional awards and accolades. Since her retirement in 2007, and subsequent ongoing service as an adjunct faculty member, the awards just keep coming. She has received the Humanitarian Award, Eminent Librarian Award and Lifetime Achievement award from the Alabama Library Association. Most recently, Dr. Stephens was awarded the 2016 American Library Association Beta Phi Mu Award and in 2015, was inducted into the University of Alabama College of Communication & Information Sciences Hall of Fame. As the ALA awards committee noted, “Her devotion to teaching generations of librarians has made Stephens a prominent leader in the field.”
While all of these awards were appreciated, Dr. Stephens says that the biggest rewards she receives are the relationships she has built and maintained with her students. She loves to see and hear from former students about the amazing work they are doing. More than a job, Dr. Stephens says that SLIS offered her a welcoming, inclusive, professional home. “SLIS accepted me, and through that position, I have been able to offer my support to all of my students, including my LGBT students. I knew I had a place at SLIS and could contribute to the profession.”
Dr. Stephens invests in more than just the education of her students, but also in their lives. She advises SLIS students to, “Get to know your professors as people. Observe what is going on currently in libraries. Read professional and academic literature and get involved with ALLA and other professional organizations. Observe the library world through internship opportunities so that you can find your place in the field.”
In her retirement, Annabel now devotes much of her time helping others as a hospice volunteer. She and her wife, Pat, also remain very involved in the food ministry program that Pat began in their church. Dr. Stephens says that volunteering in the community is now fulfilling her desire to help others and make the world a better place.