November 19, 2017

Michael Sullivan | Movers & Shakers 2005

Doing It All

2005_Michael_Sullivan

Michael Sullivan is a juggler – not a metaphorical one, a real one. He’s also a library director, storyteller, competitive chess player, poet, speaker, and former children’s librarian who continues to work with the kids in his community.

He prefers running a small-town library because he gets to keep his hands in everything: children’s work, programming, network administration, book ordering, and outreach to schools. It lets him connect with his community. “People may know me as the library guy, the chess teacher, or the baseball coach. One problem libraries and librarians have always had is that people who might need our services, but don’t identify as bookish, often feel they have no connection with us.”

Once a rambunctious, boisterous, action-oriented little boy, Sullivan understands how our female-dominated profession handicaps boys by failing to connect with their interests. In the foreword to Sullivan’s Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries Can Do, children’s author Jon Scieszka writes that Sullivan “offers a slew of ideas for effective programming for boys, a cornucopia of booklists for boys…and invokes the ethical imperative of the ALA Bill of Rights to provide equal service for all.”

Here’s how to do it: let your boy read “easy” books. Let him choose what he reads, even if his choices “make you crazy: books that center on action and even violence, books that are gross….” Read with him. Let him see you reading (especially if you’re the father, the most significant role model in his life). Show respect for all kinds of mental activities.

Sullivan was only 23 when he got his first chance to run a library. Since the institution was in dire straits, “the board figured I couldn’t really do any harm.” Being young, he did a lot of unorthodox things that worked. Since then, he’s gotten his MLS and learned all the professional ways of doing things, “but I try to never stop being that 23-year-old kid with nothing to lose.”

What generates controversy is Sullivan’s belief that librarians have misunderstood customers’ needs, while business and the Internet have swiftly moved into our niche. “The Internet shows we have misjudged what people want in terms of information…. Even when we provide access, we see the Internet as a reference tool, where our customers see it largely as a communications tool. How many libraries restrict the use of email and instant messenging on library computers, when that is what our customers really want it for?”

Sullivan believes librarians need to let “customers drive our buying, put more resources into children’s services (our customers’ biggest concern), and reinvent the library as a community center and gathering place.” He considers “getting the library to be the center of the town” his greatest challenge and accomplishment.

And a talent for juggling doesn’t hurt.

Vitals

 

Current Position Director, Weeks Public Library, NH

Degree MLIS, Simmons College, 1999

Publication Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries Can Do (ALA, 2003)

Award New Hampshire Library Trustees Association’s 1998 Librarian of the Year

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