It may seem incongruous, but with a world of data available today at the click of a cellphone, public libraries are more important than ever, says Renee DiPilato, who this summer succeeded Sarasota County’s longtime director of libraries and historical resources, Sarabeth Kalajian.
“With so much information bombarding us, librarians are the navigators of that universe,” says DiPilato, who points out that, in Pew Research Center studies, libraries rank among the highest government agencies in terms of trust.
DiPilato comes to Sarasota from Alexandria, Virginia, where she was deputy director of the Alexandria Library. She has master’s degrees in library and information science and in public administration, and a doctorate in managerial leadership.
The new libraries chief inherits a strong public library system, named Library of the Year by the Florida Library Association in 2012. Remarkably, nearly 80 percent of county residents hold library cards that they can use at any of the system’s 10 branches. A well-attended wealth of free programs beyond story times and book clubs is offered—everything from chess clubs to Spanish language classes, film series, music appreciation courses, and the new Creation Stations where users can work with 21st-century technological tools like 3D printers. Nonprofit partners like the Healthy Start Coalition and Forty Carrots Family Center hold sessions at our public libraries. Hundreds of children each summer receive free hot lunches there. And now every Sarasota public school student has a library card, so they can access the system’s vast digital resources.
DiPilato, who grew up in the military community of Virginia Beach, “where people were always coming and going,” has fond memories of her mother taking her to the public library. “The library was always a stable presence in my life,” she says.
As she was preparing this summer to leave Alexandria, a donor brought her a going-away gift: a tote bag of inspirational books he’d originally discovered at the library. “In it was a book he said saved his life because it got him on the right track to health and wellness,” says DiPilato. “Books can truly change lives.”
“People look to libraries to get up to speed,” says DiPilato. Her library in Alexandria recently received a Grow with Google grant to offer more free courses to improve digital skills.
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DiPilato is an adjunct professor of library management at the University of Southern California. “I really enjoy supporting and mentoring new librarians.”
“Libraries and librarians are community connectors—connecting people to one another, to information, to educational services, to arts and culture.”