Wilsonville library director nabs 'great honor'
Wilsonville Public Library Director Pat Duke walked onto the Hilton stage at the Oregon Library Association annual conference in Eugene with tears in his eyes — already touched to have received the OLA's Librarian of the Year award.
Once the applause ceased and nearly the entire crowd sat, Duke looked up from the podium to find a group of Wilsonville Library staff members still upright.
Duke had no idea they were in attendance and the sight prompted a second wave of emotion.
"That honestly is as important as receiving the award itself," Duke said. "It's a great honor, honest to God. It's like nothing I've ever been through in my life."
Duke, who has served as the Wilsonville Library Director for 14 years, received the award largely for his work promoting Imagination Library — which delivers books to kids ages five and under — in rural areas across the state.
But Wilsonville Public Library Services Manager Steven Engelfried believes his contributions extend beyond the program.
"I think the Imagination Library project maybe caught people's attention especially but overall over the years, he's not someone who just runs the library or manages it," Engelfried said. "He's really determined that our library does all that it can do to make a difference in people's lives."
In some respects, Duke is an unlikely champion of youth literature.
Though he grew enamored with books after reading "The Catcher in the Rye" in middle school, he doesn't remember being read to as a child. And instead of studying English in college, he attained a degree in engineering at University of California-Los Angeles.
But while at UCLA, he serendipitously earned a gig as a student worker for the school's research library. He started out lodging books into shelves and was soon promoted to a supervisory position. Of the time, he fondly recalls working graveyard shifts with fellow supervisors and providing a useful service to the community.
"I love the notion of creating things for others and also that the thing that you create has to do with making their life better and making them stronger as people. That's what appeals to me about it (working in libraries) in a broad way," Duke said.
Nevertheless, Duke worked in engineering for a couple years after graduation. But he wasn't satisfied.
"Two, three years into that, I realized I was thinking about libraries everyday," Duke said.
So Duke quit his job and went to work at the chemistry library at University of California-Berkeley and later earned a master's degree in Library and Information Science at San Jose State. Duke remembers a librarian at UC-Berkeley telling him that his background in engineering would be a benefit to his career prospects rather than a hindrance.
"I wasn't sure of my prospects. She said 'You'll get a job.' 'Why? What do I have?' And she said, 'You're not scared of science,'" Duke said.
Sure enough, after graduating from school, Duke nabbed a job as a reference librarian at Wilsonville Library. Eight years later, in 2004, he was named the library's director.
"I was in the right place at the right time," Duke said.
Duke's background in the sciences led him to develop the library's various science programs, where kids are introduced to science activities and concepts.
"This was before people were doing STEM and really using that acronym. A library pushing science at the time was really quite new," Duke said.
Whereas in the old days, checkout numbers were the overarching indicator of a library's success, Duke said program participation and use of online resources are now relevant factors. And Duke is proud of the fact that 350 Wilsonville kids attend preschool programming of some kind at the library every week.
Engelfried appreciates that Duke has allowed staff members who conduct children's storytime to provide a more interactive experience. Instead of solely reading books, the program also incorporates acting, puppets and props.
"When we talk to other librarians about this, they say 'I would love to do this but there's no way I can find enough time because our manager or director says there's not enough time,'" Engelfried said. "Pat sees the excitement families have when they come to the library."
But Duke's work with Imagination Library might be his most significant endeavor.
Duke and Wilsonville Imagination Library Executive Director Jan Rippey jump-started the program in Wilsonville six years ago and Duke says 56 percent of Wilsonville kids ages five and under are enrolled, whereas Imagination Libraries across the United States rarely, if ever, surpass 60 percent enrollment.
"If you take kids enrolled in Imagination Library and you take their peer group who is not and you put them into kindergarten those kids who are enrolled in Imagination Library are more ready to have more of the pre-skills that you need in order to begin to learn to read," Duke said.
Last fall, Duke, Rippey and Regional Director of The Dollywood Foundation Pam Hunsaker traveled nearly 2,000 miles promoting the program in 24 rural counties throughout Oregon. They were armed with an attractive selling point — the James and Shirley Rippey Family Foundation agreed to match any donation made to help start Imagination Library programs. Now, Duke says 17 of the counties are on board and expects three more to join soon.
"All three of us have a passion for this. We knew we could make a difference in these communities if we applied ourselves. So we got after it," Duke said.
Duke believes the program is not only beneficial but easy to organize.
"The books are selected by a team of educators and librarians. They do longitudinal tracking on being enrolled in the program so they can see that it's making a difference. And then they make it mind-bogglingly easy to run," he said. "That's the kind of thing that I believe will make a difference in children's lives and can be easily adopted by a community."
According to Duke, literacy promotion is even more valuable in rural areas than metropolitan area cities like Wilsonville.
"There's a lot of lower incomes out in rural Oregon. Also since there's fewer libraries in rural Oregon generally and distance to a library predicts use ... I think there is greater value in those rural areas that could very well have a higher impact," Duke said. "In general, kids at risk have a greater positive impact in their lives by a program like this."
When Duke was younger and his career uncertain, he knew he wanted to accomplish a notable feat and impact a community or his profession.
The award signifies that he has accomplished these aspirations.
"It's what everybody wants. You want to have a career as such that you do something to be recognized by your peers," he said. "It's pretty stunning."