For Paul Stonebridge, the new branch manager at the South Hill Pierce County Library, providing library patrons with a space to learn, be entertained and create new experiences is one of his main goals.
That’s part of the reason why Stonebridge launched “Virtual Travel with Paul,” a year-long travel talk series hosted at the South Hill library.
“A lot of people here are really into travel and culture,” said Stonebridge, 38. “The interest is there — now the trick is to get the word out. I want people to broaden their horizons and be inspired.”
“South Hill (is) an area that is very interested in travel,” added Judy Nelson, the customer experience manager for youth for the Pierce County Library System who helped hire Stonebridge. “Our travel books are well used.”
South Hill (is) an area that is very interested in travel. Our travel books are well used.
Judy Nelson, customer experience manager for youth for the Pierce County Library System
Every month, Stonebridge presents on a place around the world, using pictures, videos, food tastings and his own personal experiences — and he has many.
Stonebridge is a certified tour guide in Japan and parts of Europe, and has spent most of his life traveling. Born in Colorado to two parents in the military, he often moved across the country, living in states such as New York and Hawaii.
“I was all over the map,” he said. “You got used to it. It was just part of my life.”
Eventually, his family settled down in Florida, where Stonebridge attended high school and college at the University of South Florida in Tampa. At first he studied chemical engineering but turned to psychology.
“I wanted to have a more meaningful and direct impact on the world,” he said. “I want to work with people.”
Stonebridge began working in libraries in 1999 and became an official librarian in 2005 after getting his master’s degree in library science. He also started traveling around the country, working as a tour guide for EF Educational Tours and IACE Travel.
He continues to schedule tours with groups of around 16 people, eager to continue to see the world. He’ll be returning to Japan in May and to Thailand for the first time in November. He’s been to 52 countries.
“I always try to go somewhere new every year,” Stonebridge said.
I always try to go somewhere new every year.
Paul Stonebridge, branch manager at the South Hill Pierce County Library
Aside from traveling, Stonebridge’s other interests include teaching medieval sword fighting, both as choreography and as a martial art.
“I used to do performances all over Florida,” Stonebridge said. “It helps with hand eye-coordination, physically dexterity (and) fitness.”
Stonebridge moved to Washington from Florida last fall and was hired as branch manager in November.
“I wanted a change. It was time for me to do something else,” he said.
The “Virtual Travel with Paul” series allows Stonebridge to connect with his patrons and to find their needs.
“What I do with (the series) is bring it into the library as cultural education,” Stonebridge. “The library is about educating but we want to entertain as well.”
What I do with (the series) is bring it into the library as cultural education. The library is about educating but we want to entertain as well.
“His qualifications and knowledge seemed to fit with both the Pierce County Library System and South Hill branch,” Nelson said. “The fact that he’s a tour guide is interesting. He’s qualified to offer programming on travel.”
Stonebridge’s “Virtual Travel with Paul” series features places including Japan, Egypt and Central America. The next presentation will be on Italy and classic art at 2 p.m. April 15 at the South Hill Pierce County Library.
“The library used to be just a collection of books,” Stonebridge said. “Now we’re a collection of experiences and opportunities.”