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Michelle Bradley at MCLS

Michelle Bradley
With less than a month on the job Michelle Bradley, MCLS’s new Community Engagement Librarian, took time out of her busy schedule to answer questions concerning her career and where she sees Indiana libraries going in the future.

How did you become involved in libraries?

I received my MLS from Indiana University in Bloomington, and my first job was as a reference librarian for the Palm Beach County Public Library System in West Palm Beach, Florida.  I was the sole reference librarian at a small branch library, and I was the only person who had access to the Internet (yes, I’m revealing my age).  The patrons thought I was a wizard!  They would line up at my desk to ask questions (at least that’s how I remember it…).

What is something that you enjoy about the work?

I enjoy making connections in the community, keeping a pulse on what is happening in the community, and then trying to see how the library can contribute. When your city is vying for a large grant, and they take the grant committee on a tour of the library, or the Chamber of Commerce includes the library as a selling point for a potential new industry and the Tourism Commission includes the library in a segment of a tourism show on the area, then you know that the library is tightly woven into the fabric of your community, and that is exciting.  A highlight for me was when a local Japanese owned manufacturing company had their 20-year anniversary, and they invited three people to be their VIP guests to the facility’s anniversary ceremony.  The VIPs included the Mayor, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce, and ME—Library Director!  They had a wall of photos set up depicting images from their 20 years, and I was surprised to see a photo of myself, and the company president at an event we held at the Library celebrating Japanese culture.

What is a challenge?

I believe that libraries are constantly challenged by a limitation on their resources.  What librarian or library worker doesn’t wear multiple hats?  It can be difficult to find the time to go out and make connections in the community, and to stretch the boundaries of what we believe is the role of the library and the librarian.

You have had a successful career as a library administrator. What motivated you to take on this role?

I wanted to shift gears and do work that directly involved helping other librarians achieve their goals. I think that Indiana libraries in particular are coming out of some dark times, and I think that optimism is on the rise, and it is a great time for new opportunities to blossom.  I have seen MCLS take strides to reach out to libraries to create conversations and connections among different library types, and across geographic boundaries to identify common issues that libraries and library-serving organizations can work on together.  This was work that I wanted to be involved in.

What is one thing you are excited to get working on?

I just attended the ALA/Harwood Institute Libraries Transforming Communities Public Innovators Lab, and I’m eager to begin having conversations with librarians about their aspirations for the library community, as well as sharing with libraries how this can be a tool to engage more deeply with their own communities.

What do you aspire for the Indiana library community?

My hope is that libraries of all types, sizes and areas will recognize their common goals and develop ways to support one another across these differences, and ultimately, that every library in Indiana will be seen as an essential partner for all community initiatives, even those that don’t seem to have much to do with our traditional roles.

What strengths do you see yourself bringing to help make that a reality?

I have worked in Indiana libraries for many years, and have knowledge of the issues, concerns and opportunities surrounding the libraries in the state.  I’m familiar with what ILF, the Indiana State Library and other organizations bring to the table. I view myself as a “connector,” someone who listens to concerns as well as to opportunities, and links the two together.  I have had the great fortune to lead a library that is deeply embedded in the community, with many non-traditional partners and funding sources.  I can assist other libraries in recognizing these types of opportunities within their own communities, and developing tools to manage those relationships.

What are some challenges to the Indiana library community accomplishing this goal?

The day-to-day “business” of the library makes it difficult to take the time to have conversations and reflections about connecting with other libraries, or creating partnerships in the community.  We feel “guilty” when we’re not in the library building attending to those day-to-day issues.

What will have to change in the community?

Resources will not grow, so librarians will need to recognize that some activities will need to be re-examined.  Making time to listen to our communities and to reflect on our activities needs to be made more of a priority.  Librarians will have to think more about the power of partnerships, partnering with other libraries and with other agencies and organizations in our communities.

If there was one thing about libraries/librarians you could tell the world about what would that be?

Librarians never stop working.  They will give people on the street directions, or help someone use the U-scan at the grocery store. They have a true service mentality that is woven throughout their entire lives, and not just at the reference desk.

Michelle Bradley holds a B.A. in Advertising from Purdue University, an MLS from Indiana University and a Graduate Certificate in Public Management from Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis.  She has worked in public libraries for 22 years, starting her career as a Reference Librarian for the Palm Beach County, FL Public Library System.  She has worked in public services, technical services, and administration, her most recent position before coming to MCLS was as Director of the Frankfort Community Public Library in Frankfort, IN.