'I can't imagine doing anything else' - Duke departs Wilsonville library
Longtime Director Pat Duke has envisioned the Wilsonville Public Library as an essential haven for all community members to learn and access services.Â
In Wilsonville, if you've been to the library for the last 17 years, you may have seen that vision manifest through interactive programming, renovations and the library remaining open at all costs. Now, Duke will pass the mantle to new leaders who will create their own ethos.Â
"I have been able to have a career that is focused on community and trying to find ways to serve a community. That is why I became a librarian. It's why I became a director, to be able to make a positive difference in the community," Duke said. "Whether I did well or not is the degree to which people felt like they had a positive outcome from the library. I can't imagine doing anything else."Â
Duke, who was named the Oregon Library Association's Librarian of the Year in 2018, had served as the library director since 2004 and worked in Wilsonville since 1996. Though he plans to stay away from his former workplace for the time being to give the new leadership time to establish their own path, Duke has appreciated working in the Wilsonville community and is proud of what he and his staff have accomplished.Â
"I'm really very lucky to work in a city like this where the work we do here is valued by people and the city values the work and the administration supports it," he said.Â
Duke told the Spokesman in 2018 that he got a job in Wilsonville at just the right time. During his first few years he worked in a library that was one-fourth of its current size, but he still felt the community vibe —which he wanted to continue upon the development of the new library in the early 2000s.
"Serving residents in that space was pretty tight. While I was there even before expansion in 2000, Steve Turner (former director) had moved things around a few times to create space for some of our services, particularly for kids," Duke said. "It also felt like a community. It was very intimate in a lot of ways."Â
The new building allowed Duke and library staff the chance to innovate and add programming like children's storytime, which features puppets and songs along with reading. They also created a program to get kids interested in science and other clubs for adults.Â
"We try to think about services going forward: 'Do we want to have more open hours or more programs?' You have to have one or the other. It's using staff to create programming is a choice we have been making for a while," Duke said.
Library Services Manager Steven Engelfried, who described Duke as an awesome director for kids, said of storytime: "You don't really get to do that if you're a children's library unless your director supports it."
Karren Brennan, a support services coordinator at the library, said Duke's commitment to patrons was always his loadstar. For instance, when the library was renovated or when they had to digitize the book collections, he kept it open as much as possible.Â
"That speaks a lot to his leadership style," Brennan said. "His main focus has always been the people we serve."Â
Engelfried also described Duke as approachable and curious about what his staff was doing and eager to help.Â
"He's someone anytime you're running into something and don't know what to do, you can ask Pat. He will give an answer or says, 'I don't know, let's figure it out together.' He will take responsibility, support and help you," he said.Â
One of Duke's career highlights — and the main reason he won the librarian of the year award — was his work to bring the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to as many kids as possible in Wilsonville and rural areas of Oregon. That program provides books to kids between the ages of 0-5 to promote early literacy. In 2018, Duke and others traveled across Oregon to introduce the program to 24 rural communities. This has resulted in nearly 13,000 kids joining the program statewide. Wilsonville also typically has a relatively high percentage of kids in the program compared to other communities.Â
"It's the same thing as growing a muscle," Duke said of early literacy. "If you're reading to your children or if you are singing to them or playing with them or talking about what the color blue is, those are the areas of the brain that are going to be developed … That part of their brain will be much stronger as they go into school, and they will do better in school and ultimately do better in their lives. It's the key place where we should be focusing on frankly."Â
Furthermore, during a period when local libraries struggled to provide services with thin budgets, Duke helped lead efforts to establish a district in Clackamas County that bolstered library funding.
Duke's ability to do his job as well as he would like, however, was impacted by a stroke a couple years ago. He said that while his brain is well-functioning, he has trouble translating thoughts into words sometimes and has found communication more trying. The stroke was a significant factor in his retirement decision.Â
"I've been trying to work through this, and the city has been really good about creating space for me to work through this. Fundamentally I wanted to just stop working so hard around it," Duke said.
Nevertheless, he said he doesn't feel embittered and explains that his circumstances are far from horrific. Instead, he feels lucky for the relationships he's built over the years with his staff, volunteers and the community at large, and the chance to do something with his life where he could have a positive impact.Â
"I'm a lucky guy," he said. "I don't think about it (the stroke) a whole lot."Â
As far as retirement plans, Duke said he's learned a lot from local volunteers, many who are retired themselves. They told him to find things to do that he cares about, and he said he needs some time to rest and mull it over before he decides his next calling.Â
Whatever he decides, Duke will miss his colleagues and showing up to work to hear their ideas about how to make the library better. He trusts they will continue to do so without him.Â
"Being in the middle of those kinds of conversations day after day where everyone is focusing on what we can do, that's great fun for me and I will miss that," Duke said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.