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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019 9 months ago

Conversation with: Renee Di Pilato

The new Libraries and Historical Resources Director is excited to learn about Sarasota County libraries and implement new techniques.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Sarasota County’s new libraries and historical resources director, Renee Di Pilato, has always had a passion for books and people. Now she’s hoping to marry the two as she oversees Sarasota County’s 10 libraries.

Di Pilato, who holds several degrees in library sciences, information and history, succeeds Sarabeth Kalajian, who will retire in the fall.

Di Pilato served as the deputy director of the Alexandria Library in Alexandria, Va. She also is an adjunct professor of library management at the University of South California, a position she has held since 2017.

She said she’s excited to learn more about the area both in the county libraries and also exploring with her husband and their two Japanese Chin dogs.

How did you end up in Sarasota?

I have roots in the area. My mom’s family lives in St. Petersburg, so we would visit the Gulf Coast a lot growing up, and I’ve always loved the area. I’ve been in Alexandria for 14 years in various positions in that library system, and I was really looking to progress in my career into a directorship. I was really looking for this particular type of library, in terms of size, where I would still know staff and really have a chance to work one-on-one with staff members. Also, just in the great reputation this particular system has, it was an attractive place to be.

How did you decide you wanted to work in a library? 

Unlike many people, I have spent my whole career in libraries. I am originally from Virginia Beach, Va., and I grew up using the public library systems there. I started working for the public library while I was in college and really fell in love with library work. I love working with people and also having the opportunity to connect people with resources that would be helpful to them, whether it is educational or cultural or for entertainment. I just like helping people find information and resources that would really enhance their lives.

What is it about the library system that drew you in? 

I do think libraries are really integral to a community, so you get to see everyone. It’s a really diverse workplace. All sorts of people come through your doors — all ages, all backgrounds, all interests — and I like that variety, especially in a public library. Every day is different.

What are you most excited to bring to the Sarasota area? 

I have a background in doing a lot of work with staff development and instruction, so I’m really excited to work with the staff on their professional growth and development. I also have done a lot with programming for all ages. I know that there’s already a great foundation for that here, but I’m anxious to see what else we can do.

I have to ask, what is your favorite book? 

Oh boy, that’s so hard for a librarian to answer because it’s like taking sides. I will tell you, I have a really eclectic reading taste. I read fiction and nonfiction. I love books on leadership; my doctorate is in leadership studies. But I have a real affinity for the “Harry Potter” series. When I was working in the Virginia Beach public library, and I was new to library work, those books were just coming to the U.S. I just remember all the excitement around “Harry Potter,” and that series just got people so enthusiastic about coming to the library, and it got people back into the library.

Is there anything in store residents should look forward to? 

In partnership with the school system, we’re debuting cards for students and educators, so they can use their education ID or student ID number to access our digital resources, so that’s really a nice partnership to provide additional access and ease of access to our students and teachers. Then, I would say the next big initiative is Sunday hours. We’re opening up on Sundays, most likely here at Selby and then one other location, and that’s going to be in the new year.

The Longboat library functions by itself, are there any plans to collaborate or share resources?

We are developing a kiosk for the Town Hall. That won’t be with the Longboat Library, but it will be available for residents or people with Sarasota County library cards on Longboat Key. It’s really similar to those kiosks where you can download digital resources from the kiosk using your library card.

What are some goals you have for the library? 

Certainly, for my first year, just listening and learning, talking to staff, talking to the community, so I can really understand what are the challenges and how we can work to address those. I am a listener; I like to really get a sense of what’s going on before I start implementing new things. I’m really anxious to see what other opportunities we can develop for staff, for their professional growth. I think also just really looking at our plan of service for the library and seeing where we can go in the next few years.

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