Summer Guide: 20 years at Hillman, librarian’s long career to end

Though “Club Hillman” is sometimes known as the finals week hot spot for students, one staff member has had his fill of the place.

After 20 years as Pitt’s library director, Rush Miller, 67, has decided that it is time to retire. Miller, who will finish his career at Pitt at the end of this year, worked at three other universities before coming to Pitt in July of 1994. 

As the library director, Miller is responsible for the University Library System, which is made up of about 15 libraries, including regional campus libraries and Pitt’s main campus libraries.

During his two decades at Pitt, Miller worked to change many aspects of the ULS, which he said was quite “troubled” in the early years of his career. He said the library management worked in a traditional, hierarchical structure when he came to the position. 

“I set out to make a more lean, mean and efficient system,” Miller said. 

He did — and his changes are still in place today. 

One change to the system involved moving large collections of books — which had been growing since the Hillman Library was established in 1968 — to make more space in the library. To make room, Miller organized the renovation in an off-campus warehouse on Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze to store collections that weren’t used as frequently as others. 

The space, vacated of the obscure collections, allowed the library to add more seating areas for students. The warehouse is still in use today, providing easy access to the less-popular collections students still occasionally request. 

Mike Dabrishus, Assistant University Librarian, has worked with Miller for 12 years.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long, as the years have practically flown by,” Dabrishus said. “I take that as an extremely good sign.”

Miller always encouraged his staff to explore how the ULS can better position itself to respond to challenges, which Dabrishus said makes Miller a strong leader among major university library directors.

“Rush recognizes that change is very important in order for the library system to respond to the needs of students and faculty,” Dabrishus said. “And while change can sometimes be very challenging, it’s wonderful to be able to see the benefits.”

As technology advanced, Miller hired Ed Galloway in 2000 to head the Digital Research Library. Galloway was responsible for scanning and maintaining archives and special information, which are now available online to library users. The DRL, located in room 306 of 7500 Thomas Blvd. has scanners and other technology to allow students to “digitize” material from the archives.  

“He gave me the necessary resources — human and equipment — to really get the DRL off the ground and become a first-class digitization unit,” Galloway said. “He should be very proud of what he created and has sustained.”

Now, Galloway is the head of the Archives Service Center and no longer reports directly to Miller, but still views him as a boss, mentor and friend.

Miller said he realized that surveying students about their activities in the library was beneficial in making improvements. When presented with survey results, Miller brought forth improvements such as keeping the library open for 24 hours a day during the week, a common request from students, or serving coffee and food in the Cup and Chaucer cafe on the ground floor. 

James Maher, who was provost at the time Miller began working at Pitt, worked closely with Miller from 1994 to 2010.

“I was very ambitious for our libraries and it was wonderful to have someone in his position who really knew how to get our library where I wanted it to be,” Maher said. “The main improvement while Rush was here was reorganizing the library with the No. 1 and overwhelming most important criteria, which was what the customers needed.”

Miller said he will leave Pitt with great reluctance, but feels that it is time to retire and let someone younger contribute new ideas.

“The best part about retiring now is that people aren’t asking me to,” said Miller. “You don’t want to leave when you’re in the way of progress. You want to leave when you’re still being innovative.”

Miller and his wife have lived in Pittsburgh during his 20 years at Pitt, but he is originally from Mississippi, where the rest of his family now awaits their return. 

“You know it’s time to leave when you have things drawing you away,” Miller said.

Miller said he is happy to be retiring and returning home while he is still in good health and can enjoy himself and spend time with his wife and family, especially his 2-year-old granddaughter.

The University hasn’t yet decided on a replacement to fill Miller’s position. 

When looking back on his 20-year stay, Miller is most proud of accomplishing a change in the culture of the library. 

“Culture is essentially the ambiance and how people work and relate to one another,” Miller said. “It is a very time-consuming, difficult, lengthy process but the thing I’m most proud of is that the people working here are in a happier, healthier, more collegiate environment.”