Conversation salons attract Chartiers Creek-area residents to libraries

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 4:03 p.m.

Most people who participate in conversation salons at local libraries want to discuss current events, but for one person, it also is an opportunity to be a part of the outside world that she once enjoyed daily.

Rose Ann Miller, 80, was diagnosed with macular degeneration 13 years ago, which has left her almost completely blind and confined to her Carnegie home on most days. She has lost all of her central vision, meaning she cannot see straight ahead, and also gradually lost her peripheral vision because of glaucoma.

“My world used to be so huge to me at one time, but because of a combination of things — my age, not being able to drive, my eyesight — my world has shrunk, practically to just my house,” Miller said.

She can make out only the outlines of people and things directly in front of her, but that hasn't stopped her from being one of the most active participants in Scott Township Public Library's monthly conversation salon.

“I would say there are two or three people in our group that look up a lot of information for our topics, and Rose Ann is one of them,” said Pat Maxwell, who has been running Scott library's conversation salon for three years. “She is inspirational to the rest of us.”

Miller had a computer technician hook up her computer to a flat-screen, 46-inch television to be able to read, and she spends up to five hours a day, excluding Sundays, reading online. She also spends at least four hours each month researching the conversation salon's upcoming topics.

“I don't care to become a recluse, a hermit, a shut-in because that's not my makeup as a person,” Miller said. “I have the gift of gab.”

Miller joins four to nine other people for the library's conversation salon. The group, which occasionally draws up to 12 or 13 people, meets on the second Monday of every month from 1 to 3 p.m. Topics are suggested at the end of one session for the next salon, and the group agrees to two topics, one that usually is a current event and another that is less serious, such as favorite books or movies.

Maxwell said the group has discussed controversial topics such as gay rights, legalizing marijuana and U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and members have respectfully disagreed with one another.

“It's the topics that draw people for an opportunity to vent, to listen to what other people have to say and to realize not everyone thinks like we do,” Maxwell said.

Scott library director Janet Forton said the conversation salon has drawn more people to the library.

“To a certain degree, it's brought new people from the community to check out the salon and our library,” Forton said.

Renewing the salon

Karen Ciccone got permission from Bridgeville Public Library director Donna Taylor to start a conversation salon in the spring, but Ciccone stopped organizing the events after three sessions when she thought there wasn't enough community interest.

Ciccone, 79, decided to give the idea a second shot after she received encouragement from Taylor.

Bridgeville had its second conversation salon on Oct. 15 with a turnout that pleased both Taylor and Ciccone. It exceeded expectations. “We had seven or eight people,” Taylor said.

Bridgeville is trying a more spontaneous structure for its salon than is Scott's library.

“We didn't opt for setting any topics ahead of time because we just felt that we would come so full of things to talk about,” Ciccone said.

The group usually discusses current events.

“I think getting together in groups is a natural thing people do, but we've lost that a little,” Ciccone said. “I think it's a good way to pass the time with people, exchange ideas and learn more.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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