After a 46-year career, the only professional job she’s ever had, Beaver resident Diane Wakefield will retire this spring as librarian of the Beaver Area Memorial Library. She leaves a stellar legacy of the library as growing, relevant and influential in serving a diversity of community needs.
Under her direction, the library has maintained its reputation as a durable force for good, far beyond the 15009 zip code. In an era in which many people gather their knowledge online and via smart phones, Diane has found creative ways to adapt.
“Diane has led the library with unmatched kindness, intelligence and diplomacy,” says Doris Thompson, vice president of the library’s board of directors. “She’s indefatigable and has an abundance of energy and cheerful wisdom. Her unique, well-organized system has kept the heartbeat of the community going.”
Look at the numbers. Emerging from the restrictions of Covid-19, circulation last year soared to 132,093, up from 116,827 two years earlier. New card-holders increased by 841, up from 375 in the same timeframe. Counts of people coming into the building expanded to 70,853, an increase from 46,572.
“Diane has led the library with unmatched kindness, intelligence and diplomacy”
Getting newcomers in the door is a challenge Diane has welcomed. Unusual programming reaches children and adults “who have never been here before,” she says. For adults, this ranges from book clubs and crochet and chess groups to local income tax preparation services for seniors. Meeting and board rooms are widely used by community groups as a gathering place.
A children’s area provides “a wonderland of books, talking books, large-print books, audio books, puzzles, Legos, a kid’s computer, robotic gizmos” and more, the Beaver County Times admiringly has said. Science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) kits are popular.
Volunteer supporters in the Friends of the Library provide advocacy and fundraising and keep a finger on the pulse of community interests and attitudes.
The Junior Friends of the Library engages teens to help with fundraisers and activities, and hosts book discussions and writing classes. The library uses social media to reach younger people in a format which makes the message more “cool.”
Looking ahead to the next generation, Diane says that “the library will continue to thrive.” Among recent adaptations have been providing WiFi, hot spots, and 3D printers. Circulation of eBooks and audio books have grown by 30 percent in recent years and was especially high during the pandemic lockdowns.
A bank of 14 personal computers provides computing and web-surfing tools for research, report-writing, and checking email. Last year, there were 4,733 PC users, up from 3,735 two years earlier. In the event of another virus crisis, if people could not be inside the building, access to resources could be made in the entranceway.
One of the marks of the library’s standing is community goodwill. The annual fundraising appeal to the community regularly exceeds goals. Funding also comes from the Beaver Area School District, Beaver Borough and Brighton Township, and borough employees help with manpower when needed.
Diane has nurtured wider-ranging relationships which add value, and some 40 percent of patrons live elsewhere in the county. When a book title is not available, she taps into a network including the Beaver County Library System, the Beaver County Law Library at the courthouse, and other libraries across the state.
The building at the corner of College Avenue and River Road has been renovated twice and more than doubled in size during her tenure. It not only serves as a prominent landmark and repository of knowledge but also adds beauty and curb appeal to the neighborhood. The soaring lobby atrium, bathed in natural light and earth tone colors, makes a great first impression.
“People know it will be here,” she says. “It’s open full time and well-staffed. It’s easy to walk to and park, and it’s in a safe location.”
But make no mistake. Diane’s unbending focus has been on physical books. While the facility has well- adjusted to digital needs, books remain a primary tool for education and entertainment. Support for this is evidenced not just by circulations statistics but also by grants—exclusively for books—from a charitable foundation. Last year, 3,588 books were added, and today the overall total is 52,554.
The most popular volumes in the collection are The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman and The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle. The oldest dates to the Civil War, The American Conflict by Horace Greeley. Diane says the best-kept secret is the “River Collection” of rare and hard-to-find works amassed by Capt. William Pollock, who owned a packet boat and excursion steamer in the 1930s.
Diane grew up in Marion Township and graduated from Riverside High School in 1971. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and as a student worked for five years in the university’s Hillman Library. There, she met her future husband, library colleague Bob Wakefield. Her first day on the job in Beaver was Jan. 3, 1977.
She says plans to spend her retirement time with family, relaxing at the swimming pool, and…what else?…reading.