When ranking the institutions crucial to a community’s well-being, a library is always going to be near the top.
That’s why Paula Miller has devoted more than three decades of her life to libraries, including the last four years as executive director of the Pikes Peak Library District.
“I want to have an impact,” Miller said. “To know that I’m doing something that is beneficial. But I also want to do that in a positive way and with an appreciation for the people and world around me.”
Miller’s leadership has had an impact. In 2008, the district was named one of the top ten libraries in the country for libraries serving a population of 500,000 or more, according to Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings.
“It’s amazing how very well-loved the Pikes Peak Library District is,” she said. “But that’s not my accomplishment. It’s because of a huge number of wonderful people I work with.”
It was almost happenstance that Miller, a native of Ohio, ended up with a career in libraries.
She originally went to college looking to complete a double major in math and chemistry. Miller took a job as a clerk at the Kent Free Library to help pay for her schooling at Kent State University. Her boss at the time gave her the opportunity to be the head of circulation, a job that changed her life.
Miller discovered she loved the work so much that she would devote her career to it.
“One of the things I really appreciate is that I’ve done a number of different functions, from public relations to running the children’s section. I was even the janitor for a while,” Miller said. “I saw the community impact that public libraries have on individual lives. It provides opportunities that otherwise would not be available to individuals … On a more personal level, I love the work very much because it allows me to use both sides of my brain. I love a spreadsheet and a good set of data, but I also love the creative side of planning programs.”
Miller’s civic commitments include serving as co-chairwoman for the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum and being a member of the board of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. She’s also the chairwoman for a poet laureate project and co-chair for the Quality of Life Indicators Education Vision Council.
“My husband (Matt) and I are very involved in the arts community,” she said.
That volunteer work not only helps Miller meet her goal of contributing for the good of the community, it helps her keep tabs on issues and trends in the community that the library district might need to respond to.
“Libraries are the great equalizer in opportunities for knowledge,” she said. “It’s also become the community convener role. People come to be involved in education and community is built. It’s important for everyone to be involved in that process.”
In bracing for the district’s future, Miller said she’s leading the charge to transition “more into the world of e-resources and downloads.”
“That’s one of our challenges: to balance the traditional library services, important things like story time for children and books and print resources, with the new electronic world,” she said. “One of the more important factors of a library is to stay relevant to a community’s needs.”
Miller said she will tackle those challenges with her signature “positive, appreciative approach.”
“I also like innovation and trend–tracking,” she said. “Authenticity and integrity are important to me. It creates a more inclusive, involved group of people.”
By Dennis Huspeni