Few Pennsylvanians are better equipped to talk about the inner workings of a “county library” than John Killian, a seasoned attorney and co-founder of Killian and Gephart, a respected Harrisburg-based law firm. As Pennsylvania’s Deputy Attorney General in 1964 and ’65, Killian singlehandedly wrote the Library Code, the vast body of laws governing all things “library” in the Commonwealth.

Yet, it is evident that Killian’s embrace of libraries far transcends the legal minutiae cataloging byzantine funding streams, long-range planning, and minimum statewide standards.

As a board member of the Dauphin County Library System from 1971 to 2008, he has always celebrated the library’s special magic, which can never be fully litigated, legislated, or quantified.

He loved seeing the joy of discovery on children’s faces, and desks filled with focused library users when he came to the McCormick Riverfront Library for board meetings. He lauds the service of former Director Rich Bowra, and now Karen Cullings, who both are carving out a path of professionalism as the Library changes with the times.

His board service was a natural chapter in his life’s plot line. His passion for books began when he was a child in Long Island, New York.  As a seven-year-old, he walked a mile each way to the library every Saturday, filling up a roomy cloth bag with books he would read and return each week. The library was in a pre-Civil War structure, he recalled fondly, with floorboards that creaked when he walked, signaling to the librarian where patrons were in the library at any moment in time.

It is that wholehearted personal embrace of libraries that helped propel John Killian’s chairmanship of three major capital campaigns for the Dauphin County Library System, and his leadership through the Advisory Committee of the “Your Place to Belong” campaign, now underway.  His own love of learning led to a lifetime of accomplishment that could fill a weighty book.

 

So how has the library changed in 50 years?

Outside it’s changed, but fundamentally, I don’t think it has changed very much. At its heart, it’s always been the same. We are just doing things differently now, with computers, and advancements like audiobooks. We have witnessed the modernization of facilities –the Kline Library, the Hummelstown Library.  Still, the goal has always been to serve the entire community of Dauphin County.

 

What have you learned about the library though your fundraising efforts?

As the Chairman of all three fundraising campaigns, I took great pride in the fact that I was able to fulfill that role.  Before I worked on that first capital campaign, I enjoyed raising money for charity. I helped raise money to build a swimming pool in the community, then educational facilities for my church, then the Rutherford House. I always make my gift first, then I can ask anybody for anything. To anyone considering making a gift, I say, “Just do it!”

 

Why have you devoted so much time and talent to the library?

I’ve always loved to read.  In 1996, I started keeping a list of all the books I have read. In 25 years, I’ve read more than 1,400 books.  I especially enjoy fiction. It takes me away from the world. Writers like John Grisham, David Baldacci, Lee Childs, Lisa Scottoline, and other lawyers-turned-writers are some of my favorites.  They take me to areas of the law I don’t deal with regularly, like criminal law.

 

Tell us something about you that would surprise us.

I am a frustrated writer. I would love to write a book, but I am so fact-based that I lack the imagination of the greats. I did write my autobiography, called A 20th CENTURY LIFE, that is part of the Library collection.  And I read the entire Bible, cover to cover, as a college student.

 

What does the Library mean to you?

It’s an indispensable service to the community and an indispensable asset to those who have no access to computers, not to mention the books that are available to them, and their services. It’s wonderful they conduct these reading programs for children. I have two great-grandchildren, four grandchildren, and two grown children. Whenever a child enters our family, within six months of life, I get them a library card.

I was inspired by libraries.  The library is an indispensable service, and we are so fortunate we are so richly endowed in Dauphin County with the availability of service throughout the county. The Library is about wonderful people, working for a wonderful cause.