Metta Lansdale

Metta Lansdale
director, Traverse Area District Library
Traverse City, Michigan

Tottered on: 20 October 2009
Temperature: 50 F
Ceiling: beadboard
Ground: porch deck
Wind: S at 5 mph

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TT with HD: Metta Lansdale

[Ed. note: The video from the ML's interview for the Traverse Area District Library directorship can be found here: [link]. ML rode the teeter totter a few days before moving from Ann Arbor to Traverse City to take the library job there.]

HD: Welcome to the teeter totter!

ML: Thank you. This takes me back to the days when your older sister would get you on the teeter totter, and never let your feet touch the ground.

HD: But that can be kind of nice, right? The other person is doing all the work and you're just getting a ride.

ML: [laugh]

HD: Are you comfortable this way?

ML: I feel like I'm going to slip down, but I'm okay.

HD: Yeah, well, there's no handles. This is something that people often comment on.

ML: I'm good. As long as you don't let me go flying off and catapult me over into the next ...

HD: ... no, that is not my intention. Speaking of catapults, something came through my e-mail box the other day. Somewhere in the vicinity of Detroit, they are doing a pumpkin toss with trebuchets. There's a competition to see how far somebody can fling a pumpkin.

ML: Now that is very cool.

HD: And we're talking about several hundred yards, I think.

ML: That's awesome. So is this an engineering competition?

HD: I imagine there's a lot of engineers involved, I don't remember where it was or the details. I just remember thinking, That's too far for me to ride my bicycle to it. Out of our coverage area.

So, when is moving day for you?

ML: Saturday.

HD: This coming Saturday?

ML: Yeah.

HD: So are you having people swoop in and do this, are you driving a truck yourself, how are you pulling this off?

ML: I have a truck, I have hired a mover. They are going to pack me. I've been packing all of the un-breakables that I can. I haven't gotten to the end, yet. I have been tossing stuff out. I have been discovering St. Vincent Depaul. It's totally handy. I had always used Purple Heart, because they will call and they will come pick up things in the truck. But I would never have something ready when they would get there and I can't call them and say come and get it when I'm ready.

HD: So St. Vincent Depaul has been your "go to" charity?

ML: They've been my "go to" the last couple of weeks and they are right down the street from me. I had never ever walked through those doors before, and I've been here a long time.

HD: But you were aware of it before?

ML: Yeah. I always knew it was there, oh yeah. My son never even knew that it was there.

HD: So you live over in the Broadway Street neighborhood?

ML: I live northeast, north of Plymouth-Nixon, way up there. I feel like I'm on the northern slope of Ann Arbor. It's really the outer reaches, but apparently people are starting to buy houses up there.

HD: Really? Even now? Did you manage to sell your house?

ML: We haven't closed. We had the contractor's inspection. I received an offer a week and a half after I put it on the market. That was a jaw-dropper.

HD: Really!

ML: Of course, we are very fortunate in Ann Arbor with the University of Michigan, with the University of Michigan where it is, we're sincerely cushioned from the economic drop. But the University of Michigan is bringing in new doctors all the time, and they are starting to hire for the Pfizer facility. Now those are not the people who bought my house, but one of them is a health professional at the university, and the other is an automotive professional--at one of the firms that are out in Dixboro or something like that. So they are young people, first-time buyers who saved up a lot of money. Life is good.

HD: Oh yeah.

ML: And boy does that make me feel better about leaving. I'm telling you, that was huge. It's not a done deal, yet.

HD: Nothing could go wrong. Nothing could possibly go wrong. So you had no trouble finding a place to live up there? Did you buy a house?

ML: No. Because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to sell my house, I rented a condo. It's a condo downtown, which is something I've always wanted to do.

HD: Are you going to be able to walk to work?

ML: I could. It's only a 10 minute walk to work from what I understand. And I will try, but I'll need to have my car, because I'll need to get out and about during the day, and I would have to walk 10 minutes back and forth.

HD: Right if you need your car you don't want to walk on the way back to your house.

ML: But I'll be able to walk from time to time, walk in on a Saturday dicker around in my office, or ride my bike. So I'm really excited about having a downtown apartment. And it's right near the river--there's a riverwalk, it's a great community, they have what they call a TART trail--Traverse Area Recreation Trail, or something. I can't remember what it stands for.

HD: So this is a nonmotorized path of some kind?

ML: That's right. I'm not sure where it goes, because I haven't seen a map. It is all over the place, everywhere you go, you see TART trail signs and people go on and off the trail with their bikes and walking strollers. And this little community of condos where I am renting one--most of the people buy them--they are all excited, because they are finishing off another piece of the trail, which will make it easier to get to the library!

HD: Oh, wow!

ML: People really love their library up there. And so I sent them a note and I asked, Does that mean that I can ride my bike without portage? And no, you have to walk your bike up the stairs at this one point. So the library is right on Boardman Lake. Do you know Traverse City?

HD: I don't know Traverse City at all.

ML: It's on the Grand Traverse Bay, it's got wine country, it has snow, it has cherries, it has a film festival, it's got water, beach, sunshine ... and a lot of cold weather and snow. It's kind of clustered right on the bay and around the peninsula that goes up. But interestingly the library was built 10 years ago and it's situated on Boardman Lake. Which is less than a mile from the bay.

HD: Does it have a lake view?

ML: It does. And I think that if you try real hard on a clear day, I think you can see the bay, but I'm not positive about that. But it is right on Boardman Lake, which is a large lake south of the bay, and it has a river, the Boardman River, that meanders through town and empties into the bay.

HD: So the river leads from the lake to the bay?

ML: Yes. And there is considerable very nice development all along the river, and I decided that I would like to live along there. It's kind of like you described, discovering Mulholland Street and wanting a house there. So I was searching on Craigslist for an apartment, but when I went for the interview, I was driving around town looking to see, and I said that's where I wanted to live ...

HD:... so is that how you found the place, Craiglist?

ML: Yes, this is a new condo, I think they are five years old. And this one guy has never lived there but he bought and end unit, two bedrooms, a little place, that he decided to use as an investment. So he had it available and I took it. And it's good.

HD: Now you said all these glowing things about Traverse City. And, you know, I have no real notion of what Traverse City is, but I was doing Google Chat with a guy this morning who lives in France now, but he spent some time in Michigan. And when I mentioned that I was going to be riding the teeter totter with a librarian who's going to be taking over the directorship of the Traverse City library, his response was "I hope she has a collection of books of her own that she can take her!"

ML: Why did he say that?

HD: I think the idea was that really they don't have any books of their own there. But you say they love their library?

ML: Gosh, they have a huge library, and they do love their library. The reason I say that is because I went there--I do surgical-strike shopping, I do my research and I go in and I have a mission. I didn't have a lot of time, and my mission was to have a place to live by the time the weekend was over. And so I had done Craigslist, and a bunch of other stuff. And I had a list, and I talked to some people about neighborhoods, and I came home with this place. My search for an apartment involved conversations with people, and more than half of them said, My gosh you're going to be the library director?! That is such a cool library! I love that library! And one person said she never goes in, she just orders up her books and goes in and gets it, and she never spends time there.

HD: So she orders them up online?

ML: Yeah. Just like you can do at the Ann Arbor library. Which I think most people do at the Ann Arbor library.

HD: I don't know.

ML: Well I can tell you that I do. I have been working in Royal Oak for three years and living in Ann Arbor, an hour and a half commute every day, and I use the Ann Arbor library because I don't want to take up space in Royal Oak. And there are a lot of issues there--I don't want to have an overdue book. I don't mind having an overdue book here.

HD: [laugh] Wait a second, you carry overdue books here at the Ann Arbor Library?

ML: I do. And I have had fines and paid them. Awesome.

HD: [laugh]

ML: Anyway that is one of the wonderful things about the Ann Arbor library. People can go on their computer system, order up a book ...

HD: ... so Traverse City has that kind of system, too?

ML: They do. It's not as clean as Ann Arbor's. We have work to do up there. So I order it, they hold it for me, it takes me five minutes to check it out, and I'm gone. That's how this one person used it. Other people say, Oh I walk there, I ride my bike, I spend time there, it's wonderful. They just love the library.

HD: You know, in your interview--the portion of it that I watched, your interview for this job--you talk about the contrast between libraries as service providers, and libraries as community centers. And you talked about back in your days as a medical librarian, you talked mostly about providing the service--you didn't want people to linger. It was not about the collection, it was about getting an answer to the question that a physician or nurse had because they had a patient up on their floor.

So what you just described there--the person who uses a library by going online ordering up a book and picking it up, that's more sort of the pure service model ...

ML: ... that's the medical library model: you're in, you're out.

HD: Right. So to what extent is the Traverse City library a community center, where people go and do stuff and spend time doing whatever it is they do?

ML: I did not have as much of an opportunity to observe that. I think they're doing that in their programs, they have volunteers--that's how you get it to be a community center, you get people involved in the library, so they have an investment in it and they get something from it to take home.

So you do that through meaningful volunteer service opportunities. You do that through book sales. I see book sales as a service to the community--nobody wants to throw out a book. It's really a very painful thing. It gives people a place to throw the book and let somebody else use it, and it feels good. And it gives you volunteer service. It's like a quilting bee: Sorting books, you can chat with people and all that. So they have a book sale, I don't know how often it is.

HD: So these are books that have been culled from the collection?

ML: Donations. They'll also have books that they have culled, but a lot of it comes from donations.

HD: Really?

ML: Oh my gosh, yes. When people have to move--I am one--I have given the Ann Arbor library untold crates of books that I've just said, I am not moving these again.

HD: So did you systematically go through each volume and say, Okay, yes, I am going to give away this book now, let me pause and think about when I got this book and what I used it for?

ML: There was a little bit of that, I will admit it. Is this something I want to keep for all time because I love this so much? Or have I just kept it because I didn't get rid of it? Or am I holding this because I think my children would like to have it eventually?

HD: I keep books that I know for a fact that I will never look in again, but I keep them as a physical token of time spent doing something. I'm thinking primarily of books I use as an undergrad in college or as a graduate student. I spent time with that physical object.

ML: Oh yeah, it's a piece of your life.

HD: Right. So it's not that I really plan to look into that calculus textbook ever again, and I hope to high heaven that I never have to, but I'm not going to give it away because I spent some quality time with it.

ML: I spent a few minutes like that with the entire set of the Patrick O'Brian novels. Did you ever read Patrick O'Brian?

HD: No, I'm not familiar with him.

ML: The Jack Aubrey--he wrote this series, it was very popular maybe about 10 years ago, my sister introduced it to me when I was out east.

HD: This is your older sister who didn't let you touch the ground on the teeter totter?

ML: No, she was the older-than-that sister.

HD: [laugh]

ML: I have four sisters. But anyway, it turned out to be a novel that was 10 volumes long. They were published serially--about ships, and British war sailing stories. And each book was engaging because of the detail and you could see how they lived, and what they ate, what they wore, how they talked, it was awesome. And then the action, of course, was very cool. And each book had a little bit of ebb and flow, and as you go through the whole series the series itself had an ebb and flow.

Some of the books were boring. And why? Because the guy was on land had to deal with the problems of keeping house and he wasn't very good at that. He was really good at being a ship captain. So when he was on the ship he was successful, he was excited, he was alive life was good. And when he got on land he had money problems, his wife was complaining, and yada yada yada. And what I realized as I was reading through this: This was the boring part because he was bored, he wanted to get back. I read every one of those books over the course of about a year. I could not throw those away. For the same reason that you say. It was an investment of my time. And they were wonderful.

HD: So those are going with you up to Traverse City?

ML: Yes. And why? They're going to take up space. I'm okay with that. Maybe the Traverse Area District Library will get them, who knows?

HD: But you're a library director, so because you're library director, any set of books you might decide to keep, nobody could quarrel with that choice because you're a librarian, right?

ML: I don't see the logic there, but that's okay. [laugh]

HD: So another thing that you said in your interview for this Traverse City library job was that libraries still are very much about the book, that this is the "library brand" and that for all of the technology, it's really about using the technology to deliver the book. I mean thinking back to the person who told you that they order them up and then just pick the books up from the library, there is technology there--but only in service of getting her the books. So I was wondering, that might be true now.

Certainly, if you showed me a building now that had no books in it and purported to me that it was a library, because it had access to a bunch of information through digital means, computer terminals or whatever, then I would be skeptical that it really was a library. But that's now. Do you see a day in like 20 years, when the book is no longer the brand for libraries, and the brand has become information in a more abstract sense? So that a library might still be physical place, but they're aren't many books.

So maybe what you see is a essentially research assistants, people who are there and you can go to them and say, I'm looking for information on blah blah blah and and they say, The best way to look for information on that is used not the whole Internet but some special segregated collection, here's where you can find it.

ML: That's always been a part of what library's do for as long as I can remember. I used to do it with books. Research support has always been a very strong part of library service. With the Internet, a lot of people feel that they don't need the library because they've got it on the Internet. And the problem with that is they aren't seeing some of the best things they can get, because they not everything is on the Internet. Google is trying to change that. But we are a long way from there. But back in the 1970s I remember people telling me books are gone, everything is going to be on microfilm. You're not getting need any books. [Ed. note: Phone call on moving logistics.]

HD: So back to the idea of books as the library's brand.

ML: I'd be stupid to say that the books are always going to be there. But 30 years ago people were telling me, Books are gone. But books are huge, still. They are huge as artifacts, they're huge as physical objects. There are companies that are trying to replicate some of that that warm and fuzzy feeling that you get from a book. And there are advantages to that--you can take a long trip and put 16 books on a little thing like this and that's wonderful--but it's still not a book. So it's an artifact, it feels good, there something about it.

And who knows? I would not ever say that the book will always be with us. But I would not ever say that it would not always be with us. It's very strong now. And it's going to be very strong for a long time.

HD: There's a house down on Washington Street--it's a long story, but let me see how can I abbreviate it. I e-mailed the ask-a-librarian feature at the Ann Arbor District Library, and I told them what I was trying to figure out for a particular street address: Did the fire chief ever live there back in the day? And it was within a day, I got the answer back and the answer was basically not a fire chief, but a fire inspector. And the answer had been found in old city directory, which is not online, so that's an example of stuff that's not available in a digital format or over the Internet--of course I still use e-mail to get the information.

ML: If it was online, would it have occurred to you to look, would you know to do that?

HD: No. I would not have known or thought of, Oh, city directories. Now, I would know.

ML: It's interesting that we do that. There's a lot of people who research the genealogy of their house to see who's been there, who built it, and why they built it this way. And libraries are the place where they go and have the resources, you would not even believe the resources they use. It's newspaper articles, it's city directories, it's all kinds of stuff.

HD: I attended a meeting of the historic district study committee to study an area just south of the Ann Arbor District Library, south of William Street--the larger neighborhood is now called Germantown. But this study committee is focused on an area smaller than that now. So you have a bunch of people on the committee who are doing what you describe, but not for their own houses--they are doing it for an entire neighborhood.

And they are using the Google Books version of some of the city directories. Since some of the city directories actually exist on the Google Books platform and some of them don't. And so there was this discussion around the table at the committee meeting of, you know, these are years in the directory that are available on Google Books and you should check that first, because you can do it from the comfort of your own home. But the other city directories, you have to go and look at in person.

So we're in this transition phase, where some of the directories are online and some of them are not. So they're using a variety of different approaches to put together this information. And to me the interesting thing was that they are compiling the results of their efforts--because they've dosed out the work and divided it amongst themselves--they're logging their information into a shared Google spreadsheet so that they can keep track of what's going on, and they can easily add an update and see what other people are doing. Anything else you want to talk about on the teeter totter for we hop off of here?

ML: Well, I don't think so.

HD: Is there anything in particular that you can think that you're going to miss about Ann Arbor? How long have you lived here?

ML: About 30 years. I came here for library school and I decided to operate a search for a job from Ann Arbor, and I found a job in Ann Arbor, and I figured I'd have that job for two years.

HD: So there are bound to be things that you are going to miss.

ML: There are things. Although I live in Ann Arbor, I have worked in Chelsea, I worked in Royal Oak, and I've been so focused, that I just come to Ann Arbor to sleep. I'd used to sing in the choral union, used to sing in the church choir, I used to do a lot of stuff out in the community, and I used to know people. And I still do know people.

But I will miss the familiar faces, if nothing else. And people who know me, and who I know and who I know how they think--I feel comfortable in Ann Arbor. And so I'm going to a new community and I feel very comfortable doing that. But people will not know me, and it will take a good period of time for me to get myself incorporated into that community. That's another reason why I want to live downtown, so I could look at in the midst of people and of things in a more compact way, rather than being way out in the trees somewherebecause it was less expensive. Then I would be in the same situation where I am here, where I'm living out there, I'm spending all my time down here during the day and then just go to home to flop or something.

So this is good. The condo that I'm renting, it's a very nice community of about, I don't know, about 20 condos. There is an association, they go out to breakfast on Saturday every month, they have a listserv. I've started communicating with some of them. One of them sent through a haiku, just looking out looking out from her breakfast table at the trees starting to turn color. It was marvelous it was just wonderful. And I've lost that connection with Ann Arbor, although I still feel comfortable talking to people and all that, I don't have the same connections that I used to. So this is a good move for me. I grew up in the Cleveland area but I have no ties to Cleveland anymore. My four sisters are all spread over the four corners of the earth. So there's no reason for me not to move to Traverse City, and there are many reasons for me to go to Traverse City.

HD: So what is your first day on the job?

ML: November 1 is a Sunday, so November 2.

HD: Well, good luck.

ML: Thank you. And thanks for doing this. You are going to let me down easy, right?