CARSON CITY — Randy Riley’s new position may now have him representing the entire state of Michigan, but he’ll always refer to the small communities of Hubbardston and Carson City as home.
Riley, who was named Michigan’s state librarian upon the retirement of Nancy Robertson on April 30th, has spent his first few months becoming acclimated to his new position. In one of his first ventures away from Lansing, he returned to his roots Tuesday by visiting his hometown of Hubbardston and nearby Carson City Public Library.
“Coming back, seeing people that I care about, it’s fun,” he said to a small crowd at the library. “My dad still lives here and I go to see him as often as I can. This is home, and it will always be home, although my kids, having grown up in East Lansing, are a bit surprised when they see the small size of Hubbardston.”
Riley was greeted by the library staff and about 10 members of the community during a meet-and-greet event at the library Tuesday afternoon.
He entertained questions and comments from staff and community members as part of his ongoing effort to reach out to libraries across the state on a regular basis.
“I’m just going out and visiting libraries and I wanted to make sure that my local libraries from when I grew up were a part of that stop,” he said. “I just like to hear what everyone thinks. Maybe people are wondering about areas where we could improve. It’s humbling, the fact that people actually showed up today to say hello.”
One of those individuals, Jack Fahey of Hubbardston, who lives just a mile south of Riley’s childhood home, took the opportunity of Riley’s visit to speak with him about genealogy.
“As the chairperson of the Hubbardston Historical Society, I’m very curious about genealogy,” he said. “We usually get two or three residents a month with requests about their genealogy, so I’m eager to see what resources Randy is using to help us throughout the state. It was also very nice just to catch up and say hello, as I watched him and my children grow up together.”
Riley said he hopes that under his leadership, the state library will do a better job of reaching out to local, smaller libraries such as the Carson City library.
“I think the state library needs to play a lot larger role in shaping how libraries in general are viewed in the state,” he said. “I think having more public image is something that needs to happen.”
With funding having been cut throughout the years and no recent increases in that regard, Riley said it’s important for libraries reach out and be proactive in their respective communities.
“The new expectation is, you have to sell yourself,” he said. “We can’t just sit behind the reference desk and wait for the magic to happen. You look at libraries like here in Carson City, where (Library Director) Beth O’Grady does a great job of reaching out and telling people what the library has to offer. That needs to happen everywhere, and my goal is for the state library to do what it can to help in that regard.”
Riley said the number one request he receives is to assist with more funding, something he says is out of his hands, unfortunately.
“State aid to libraries has gradually been going down, but that is a decision that comes from the Michigan legislature,” he said. “Sometimes a conversation with your local legislator is much more impactful than anything I can say or do. But there are other things, like databases, programs or workshops, that we can offer. We want to hear about those things. The library community in Michigan, that’s our audience, that’s who we’re serving.”
Riley said those services include the Michigan Electronic Library (MEL) and eLibrary services, that he hopes one day will be available in all Michigan libraries.
“Digital content is here to stay,” he said. “The expectation by your public and your users is more and more digital content. People want it on their tablet. They want to be able to walk in here with their tablet, get what they want on their tablet, and walk out of the library with it on their tablet. That’s something that we’re going to have to look at and figure out how to do that.”
In the end, Riley said he wants to find the proper balance in the relationship between the state library and the many libraries throughout Michigan, and create a working relationship.
“In a lot of cases, people just don’t know what the state library is doing for them,” he said. “That is a clear indication to me, that we need to be out in the field more. Helping with programing, partnering and collaborating with libraries.”
O’Grady said she was honored that Riley made Carson City one of his first visits as he begins this new venture, and will welcome him back any time.
“With the approach he’s taking, coming and speaking personally with the community and members of the library staff, I think it’s great to see him coming and making those connections,” O’Grady said. “It’s a nice, down-to-earth approach. We’re a small library and I’m glad he chose to visit us.”