Q&A: Penn Area Library director retiring
As an early adopter when it came to library technology, Dorene Miller has been passionate about reading for much longer than the 23 years she’s worked as a library director.
“Teen author Libba Bray sums it up perfectly,” said Miller, who is retiring as Penn Area Library director on Friday . “The library card is the passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and striving of all human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy and ignorance.’”
Miller, a Johnstown resident, spoke recently with the Murrysville Star about her five years as Penn Area Library director. The following interview has been edited for length:
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you came on board as library director, and how did you work to address it?
A: In 2006, Pennsylvania public libraries suffered a 32% cutback in our state subsidy, a $21 million funding loss that has never been reinstated. So, funding continues to be the greatest challenge for library directors and trustees.
One of my goals was to expand our library services and programs, and in 2014, I gave a presentation to the Penn Township commissioners, and they responded with a funding increase of nearly $14,000. Penn Area Library is also supported by the Westmoreland County Commissioners, The Friends of PAL and, of course, generous donations from our community.
Q: What are some programs you’ve helped introduce during your tenure as director?
A: I’ve enjoyed bringing new, unique adult programs to the Penn Township community and interacting with so many talented musicians, actors, storytellers, scientists, authors and our own UFO investigator Stan Gordon.
Our programs have included storyteller Alan Irvine, Beatles scholar Aaron Krerowicz, authors Rebecca Drake and Chris Rodell, (a classical music program with Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra retired director) Morrie Brand, “Archy & Mehitabel” featuring Gale McNeeley, “Astronomy for Everyone” with astrophysicist Kevin Manning and a kora performance by Sean Gaskell. Our most memorable program was the 12-week Vietnam War series, in partnership with the Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County and the White Oak Vet Center.
Q: What do you see as the future of libraries, both in Penn Township specifically and in general?
A: With the proper funding, Penn Area Library — and libraries in general — will always be available to meet the needs of the adults, teens, and children we serve: their need for factual information from trustworthy sources, their need for entertainment through reading and programming and their need for community by socializing with friends and neighbors at the library.
Q: How have you had to adapt to patrons’ changing reading habits and needs over the years?
A: When I began my career in 1996, e-books were yet to be developed, so my focus was on print books and books on CD. Soon after the introduction of the Kindle in 2007, my library in Johnstown began to provide and promote free downloadable e-books and e-audiobooks, and Penn Area Library has offered e-books for nearly 10 years. I believe that they are an enhancement to our libraries, not a replacement.
Although I enjoy e-audiobooks while walking for exercise and at the gym — the convenience and ease of use is unbeatable! — I still prefer reading print books.
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, print books are the most popular reading format, with 67% of people preferring a print book over an e-book. Penn Area Library’s circulation statistics reflect this preference: in 2018, our book circulation was 80,998 and our e-book circulation was 8,227.
Q: What have you enjoyed the most about being PAL director?
I’ve particularly enjoyed my friendships with my colleagues in the Westmoreland Library Network, who are the most welcoming, enthusiastic and dedicated group of librarians I’ve ever encountered! My “Lucy and Ethel” adventures with the library’s former business manager Donna Orange are legendary, and it’s been a pleasure to know Pat Cappeta, our children’s librarian, whose outstanding programs inspired me to join the PAL team. It was so much fun to participate in community events like the Fall Festival, PTBA Costume Parade, Penn-Trafford’s “Battle of the Books” and the Excellence in Education luncheon.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .