Humans of the Keweenaw: Interview with Dillon Geshel
"I'm the vocalist in a hardcore punk band called Wildlike, and that might be surprising to people if they still envision librarians as meek or timid."
This is the third in a series of planned interviews highlighting humans in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties who are working to improve our community’s quality of life.
Interview conducted on 7/5/17 by Kyle Krym
Photos courtesy of Victor Ierulli II and Kyle Krym
Please, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Lake Linden and moved to Ypsilanti for a short time after graduating high school. I was studying writing at Eastern Michigan University, but I missed the Keweenaw, and ended up transferring to Michigan Tech. I graduated with an English degree in 2013. I spent a year working in NMU’s library as a Librarian Assistant before moving back to work as a reference librarian at Portage Lake District Library (PLDL). 18 months ago, I was promoted to Library Director. Now I’m in my last year of course work for my Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) in Wayne State’s online degree program.
Why did you choose to study Library and Information Science?
I’ve had the opportunity to work at nearly every level of the institution at PLDL, and it really instilled in me an interest in librarianship as a career. I knew I would need my MLIS if I wanted to work as a professional librarian in a bigger library system. I actually started studying for my Master’s degree around the same time I began working as the interim Library Director. While I’m still working on my degree, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stick around and represent my home library.
Why are libraries important?
Libraries are vital because they provide a free means for the public to get information. In this sense, libraries are a foundation of democracy. Without an educated citizenry, we couldn’t have a free and informed exchange of ideas. Libraries ensure every voter has access to the resources they need to develop information literacy skills and be an informed participant. They also provide a neutral space for public discourse—another vital element to our democracy.
How do you balance being a Library Director at the same time as being a student, father, and husband? In other words, how many clones of you exist?
I try to stick to a routine and stay organized. I use a Kanban board at work so that if I forget about an upcoming project, I’ve got it there as a reminder. My wife and I have a relatively steady routine of dropping off and picking up our kids, Sawyer and Everett, from daycare. We do as much as we can with the kids on the weekends because it’s hard to find time Monday through Friday. With my school work, that’s where my organization and routine starts to fall apart. I take care of it when I find the time outside of work and family time. I’m also playing in a band with friends right now, and we squeeze in practices whenever we can.
There are plenty of stereotypes about librarians in popular culture, including that they are quiet, punitive, and/or timid. Do you wish to repudiate any of these labels?
Yes, those stereotypes haunt my profession! Every time you see a librarian in a candy bar commercial or in a passing role on a television show, they’re shushing people. It’s frustrating, especially because we don’t shush! Learning is loud, especially the collaborative type that we encourage in children, and libraries need to keep that in mind. It can be a difficult balance, because we also have to provide quiet spaces for patrons who require them.
I’m the vocalist in a hardcore punk band called Wildlike, and that might be surprising to people if they still envision librarians as meek or timid. I’ve only been playing with this group for a year or so, but I grew up skateboarding and playing in hardcore bands, and it’s always been a passion I return to. I like to think that hardcore separates itself from other heavy music genres through a sense of lyrical urgency. I’m bored by heavy music that doesn’t also have great, meaningful lyrics.
One of our songs is about a post-apocalyptic librarian who travels the United States after a digital pulse flash destroys all digital communication. In the year’s leading up to the event, libraries and other educational institutions were routinely de-funded, so there’s this struggle to rebuild without the resources or guidance previously found in these institutions. I’m sure you can understand how that would be a meaningful story for me.
Now, what sort of librarian would I be if I didn’t take this opportunity to recommend a book? The idea for that song came from Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent 2014 novel Station Eleven. The novel follows a troupe of actors and musicians traveling the Great Lakes region performing Shakespeare plays for the few survivors of a global apocalyptic event.
Speaking of excellent books, Harry Potter just celebrated his 20th Birthday. How did you celebrate?
Are you really going to make me publicly admit that I’ve never read Harry Potter? I’m more interested in literary fiction and creative non-fiction, although I don’t have as much time to be a literary snob as I used to. I will say that I’m more interested in Harry Potter now than I was when I was as a teenager, because I see so many memes about Hermione being an advocate for libraries. And Emma Watson runs a feminist book club, which rules! I guess I *do* love Harry Potter.
If not Harry Potter, what was your favorite book or book series as a child?
R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. That was the first time I was really interested in reading. I was even a member of the Goosebumps Fan Club. I had a bookshelf in my bedroom and I put a giant Goosebumps sticker on it and that’s where all my books were kept.
What did it take to be a member of the Goosebumps Fan Club?
I have no idea. I had to submit my mailing address and then I got a sticker and pogs with something scary on them.
What was your first memory of PLDL?
My first memory of being at a library was the Lake Linden school library. I have the worst memory and rely on my siblings to remember my childhood, but I remember going there a lot. My first memory of PLDL wasn’t until a job interview to become a Library Page in 2010.
What do you think your children’s first memories of PLDL will be?
We take Sawyer and Everett here on weekends a lot as part of the Summer Reading Program. We also come here on Saturdays to stock up on reading. I imagine their first memories will be reading and playing with kids in the play area. Every time we drive through Houghton, Sawyer thinks we are coming to the library. When we park on the parking deck behind 5th & Elm, Sawyer will always say, “Medium Coffee please!” because she’s heard me say that so many times during our Saturday library outings. She’s funny like that.
How are you and PLDL looking to the future?
Libraries are excellent at adapting to change—we have to constantly be looking to the future to survive. The advent of digital technology puts an enormous amount of information at your fingertips, and libraries help the public navigate that sea of information. Neil Gaiman once said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” At PLDL, we help adults become digitally literate through computer courses and tablet training, and we also provide access to research databases that sift out the fluff and disinformation.
We’re always thinking of new and innovative services we can offer our patrons based on their needs. Libraries are more than a depository for books. Since their inception, patrons have used libraries as community meeting spaces, and we have certainly embraced that idea. When we noticed a need for more afterschool activities for teenagers outside of organized sports, we started hosting NERF battles in our library—the benefits of which go far beyond a fun event of kids. Physical activity for that age group is proven to help fight depression and stress. A lot of these participants are first time library users, who we then see return to make use of educational resources we offer.
We look to our community to help shape new programs or resources. Right now, for example, many residents and library patrons are passionate about cycling and sustainability through cycling, so we’re brainstorming how we can meet their needs through our programs and resources. Maybe that means a bike share program, hosting drop-in bike maintenance events in partnership with local bike shops, or investing in a book bike that travels along the bike path to Houghton’s many summer festivals, making books and WiFi available on the spot. This is all preliminary, but I think that illustrates the drive we have for looking to the future.
For more information on the Portage Lake District Library, please visit their Facebook page or their website at http://pldl.org. Donations can be made through the PLDL Endowment at Keweenaw Community Foundation by visiting http://keweenawcommunityfoundation.org/funds/portage-lake-district-library/.
Through philanthropic services, strategic investments and community leadership, Keweenaw Community Foundation helps people support the causes they care about, now and for generations to come. For more information on Keweenaw Community Foundation and how to give, visit its website at www.keweenawgives.org.