About Gregory Mickells:
On September 4, Gregory Mickells will become the 16th Library Director in Madison Public Library's 137 year tenure. Gregory Mickells was the Assistant Library Director for the Lincoln City Libraries in Lincoln, Nebraska, since 2007. Previously, Mickells was a Library Manager in the Douglas County Libraries in Castle Rock, Colorado for eight years, and has held other library positions in Nebraska and Colorado since 1989. Mickells has his Masters in Library Science from Emporia State University.
While in Madison on July 17 for his contract confirmation by the Madison City Council, he spent several hours meeting staff from Madison's nine libraries, and took some time out of a busy day to talk with the Library's Media Coordinator, Tana Elias, about how he choose Madison and what he sees for the future of libraries.
What attracted you to Madison and Madison Public Library?
I'm always looking for new opportunities and challenges. I wasn't actively pursuing a new position, but I was intrigued when I saw the Madison posting. The Madison library is used as a comparable study in Lincoln. The libraries are similar, and the cities share many features - they're state capitals, they house major universities. I did research and found that Madison libraries are fairly well funded. It shows a level of commitment to library service in the city. I'd never been to Madison, but everyone said I would love it. I gained a sense after three days [when in Madison for interviews] that it was a fun city, one that I'd feel comfortable in.
You have an background in fine arts - how did you become interested in public libraries?
I received a Bachelor of Arts [from University of Nebraska at Omaha] in drawing and printmaking, and after graduation I became an artist in residence, where I demonstrated printmaking to students. I formed a graphics business with a schoolmate. We focused on logo design and did work for rock bands and other clients. Another classmate was working for a historical society, vetting exhibits and doing a lot of research. That piqued my interest in historical research. I worked for the historical society as a photo archivist, then worked for a community college. My first public library job was at Omaha Public Library converting the card catalog to a database. One of the first issues I encountered at Omaha concerned the keeping of the card catalog after the online database was available. The catalog was obsolete, it wasn't updated, but customers still wanted it. It was a huge change, one that was finally embraced by librarians and customers. There's always some type of change in libraries.
What was your greatest accomplishment from your time as Assistant Library Director at Lincoln City Libraries?
I just did a presentation to management, a retrospective of my tenure there. What I feel I've contributed most is offering a sense of empowerment to management. Lincoln was very compartmentalized when I arrived there from Douglas County Libraries [in Colorado]. Douglas County was very innovative, and Lincoln had a culture that was a different pace. I was puzzled, a bit naive, in that environment that automatically questioned change. Management had the ability to accomplish a lot and be innovative, but wasn't doing that. I feel I opened that door to let them initiate change, to see how it affected customers. While I was there we enhanced customer service and brought customer-centric services to the library. Libraries often look at a policy or procedure from a library point of view, but we need to ask who it will really help and put the customer first. Recently in Lincoln, for example, we initiated an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards review. We asked managers to visit with our disabled customers and ask them how they experienced our building. One librarian spoke with the father of a girl who used a wheelchair, who helped us identify challenges and what we were doing right. That input may help us reconfigure parking and curb cuts. We moved some collections, and removed some obstructions to the self check-out area. By talking with that customer and others, we found simple solutions we never would have thought of. Our manager was able to engage in a dialogue with customers and the father truly appreciated our efforts to make the library a welcoming place for his daughter. Building those relationships with customers is critical for our managers. I hope that's what I left - the ability and expectation for managers to get out of the building and into the community.
What other opportunities do you see for libraries to be out in the community?
When I was looking for houses in Madison, I was talking with my realtor, and found she didn't know that libraries have databases for creating business call lists. I was recently golfing with a group of realtors [in Lincoln] where this came up and I told them how a librarian will show you how to use a database in your office. Instead of just offering databases, we were customer-centric and took it further to offer proactive delivery of service to customers. I think it's great that Madison is working on branding. When you talk to librarians, they say we need to market ourselves better, we need to be proactive and out in the community making connections and being responsible stewards of tax money.