Claire Bellanti has served as president of the Jane Austen Society of North America since 2014. She previously was vice president for regions from 2010 to 2013 and JASNA Southwest’s co-president/regional coordinator from 2005 to 2008.

She retired from UCLA after a 35-year career as a library professional. Claire earned her master’s in history from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and her MBA from UCLA.

As she prepares to pass the torch to a new JASNA president at the end of the year, Claire shares her favorite experiences, the changes and challenges she’s overseen, and her hopes for JASNA’s future.


What have you enjoyed most about your tenure as JASNA president?

The JASNA president has many jobs: Signing contracts, investigating insurance, writing business letters, planning JASNA tours, participating in committee work, overseeing the AGMs and directing the business of the JASNA board are perhaps the most important. But there is no question that the one thing I have enjoyed most is visiting JASNA regions. I have been able to travel to 24 of them during my four years as president. JASNA supports the cost of the travel to help encourage regions, both old and new, in their programming efforts for members. I’ve given a talk about Circulating Libraries in the 18th and 19th centuries [the same talk Claire gave at our Southwest region meeting in December 2015 at UCLA]. For me, getting to know members around the U.S. and Canada has been the most rewarding part of the job.


What were the biggest changes you have overseen so far?

Three especially beneficial changes for members have taken place during the last four years:

1) The development and launch of a new JASNA website. It has a modernized look, is easy to navigate, and contains so much interesting information about Jane Austen and the novels. My favorite part of the website is the map of the novels, and I love that it is so easy to search old issues of Persuasions.

2) The development and launch of a new membership management system and the change in the membership period. It is hard to believe but, until 2016, JASNA’s membership information (nearly 5,000 entries) was handled with an Excel spreadsheet. Now that we have a system that will send automated renewal notices and allow people to update their own demographic information, we have been able to extend membership for a full year from the day that person joins, and we no longer need to make everyone’s expiration date the same day. Under the old system, whether you joined in October or May, your membership expired in August.


3) The change to national-dues only. Since JASNA’s inception, there was confusion among members between local region dues and national dues. People often paid one of them, thinking it represented dues for both. This confusion sometimes created ill-feeling. JASNA has eliminated local region membership dues by setting up a dues-sharing program with the regions. Ten dollars of the dues each member pays to the national organization are now returned each year to the member’s primary region to help support local programs. [Visit the JASNA member portal to designate your primary region, if you haven’t done so already.]


What are you proudest of?

I am very proud of the steps JASNA staff have taken to bring our organization into the 21st century. I cannot take credit for any of the technical expertise that has gotten us there. But I hope I can take a little credit for clearing the decks and making it possible for those with the expertise to move forward with the projects.


What have been the biggest challenges?

While it can be challenging to lead an all-volunteer organization, those who participate in JASNA governance are so committed that it is a delight to collaborate with them. So that is not the biggest challenge, but it is the best challenge.


Where would you like to see JASNA be in the next decade?

JASNA’s membership has grown dramatically in the last five years, in part because of the 200th anniversaries of the publications of the six novels and the death of Jane Austen. JASNA’s ability to retain members depends on its ability to keep up with technological developments that appeal to younger members while making sure we provide all members with the services they most need. I hope that JASNA will continue to find meaningful ways to bring Jane Austen’s writing into people’s lives. I do not necessarily believe we must always be growing larger, but I do think that we must never lose sight of the written word of Jane Austen, so that those people who love Austen’s words will have a place to celebrate them.