Greg Mickells recounts his first time in the Municipal Building, which occurred when the City Council was confirming him as director of Madison Public Library in 2012. Mr. Mickells discusses homelessness and resources in downtown Madison and his impressions of the renovated Municipal Building.
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: The recording is on. My name is Sarah White. I’m a volunteer with the Living History Project, and I’m talking with Greg Mickells, who is the Madison Public Library System Director. On December 8, 2018. What would you like to tell us about the Municipal Building?
Narrator: The Municipal Building, in… room 260, which is the old courthouse, was where I first met the mayor. Mayor Soglin. And it was also when the Council was meeting to approve my directorship of the libraries. And it was in that building, it was in August of 2012. It was about 90 degrees. The mayor was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sandals, and I had a suit and tie. And it was hot! [LAUGHS] And I still remember that day. I didn’t know a soul in the room except for Alder Palm who had been part of the hiring committee for my position and so I, I sat next to him through the process and he walked me through it. But that was my introduction to the city. It was my introduction to this building. And it’s definitely imprinted there that, here I was meeting the mayor for the first time in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals.
I: Yeah! Where were you coming from? Where had you been working?
N: I had been working in Lincoln, Nebraska prior to Madison and I worked in the Denver area for over ten years. All in libraries. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska. So, kept in the Midwest.
I: And…you were hired. When did you begin?
N: I began in September of 2012 and I began when Central Library was under demolition. And it was just the start of the renovation of the Central Library, so I was involved with that project. And then, when we reopened in September of 2013.
I: Yes. Uhm so now what sort of things would bring you to the Municipal Building, through your work downtown? And as a resident?
N: [OVERLAPPING SINCE DOWNTOWN] Well… As the director... Uh well, as a director of a department, several meetings between Common Council when they still met in 260. A lot of times to just department, division head meetings. Meetings with other departments. Planning Department Urban Renewal… Uh… Our Urban Design committees about the library. So a lot of official functions.
I: Mhm. And as a resident? Did you live downtown as well?
N: I didn’t. I live on the far west.
I: So you probably didn’t come here for your post office and…
I: Yeah. Okay. Uhm… You tell me if this isn’t a topic you want to go into but what comes to my mind when I think about this building and the Public Library is the homeless issues downtown. Because we have…
I: This has been an encampment, and the library’s been an encampment. Did your work with the city bring you here in conversation about how Madison deals with its homeless?
N: Well, we do a lot. The way I look at individuals who are experiencing homelessness is that they’re part of our community as well as anyone else.
N: And where I see the Library’s position with that in regard is we’re a tremendous resource for that population and that’s a very vulnerable population. The libraries today have to be flexible, have to be welcoming to everyone in their community and it’s a resource. It’s a resource for everyone. Sometimes that resource can simply be a warm place to go out of the weather and become a shelter. It can be a connection so that an individual that’s experiencing homelessness has internet access to contact family members, to stay connected. And it’s also a place where they’re welcomed and they feel that they’re part of the community, which I think is important.
I: Mhm. Right. Right. It’s so easy to lose that...
I: … under stress. [PAUSE] Have you toured the building yet today?
N: Oh yeah! I was…
I: Give us your review!
N: I love it! I love it. Same architect that did the renovation here, did the renovation on Central Library, so I’m familiar with their work. And I, I greatly appreciate their design sense. And as we toured the building before it was even open, I was able to go through it. It was just an amazing transformation. I think the biggest thing here that we have to notice right off, and the mayor talked about it in his opening address, is light coming into the space…
N: And just having natural light come into the building again just transforms it.
I: Yeah. Yeah. [PAUSE] I, I find myself thinking about the, uh, hybrid of the classical building, the Federal style that this originated...
N: [OVERLAPPING] Mhm…
I: ...with, and now this glass and steel. Do you think the marriage of those two is working?
N: I think they did. I attended the brief presentation by the architect.
I: Uh huh.
N: And they talked about the history, they talked about going back to that green color…
I: [OVERLAPPING] Yeah! Mhm.
N: … for the windows. Uh, that that was the original. So I think there’s… It really embraces the historical. It…but embraces the functionality of what we need now as far as it being a sustainable building, being energy efficient…and just looking at it from that perspective, it’s a terrific marriage…
N: …of the old and the new.
I: I imagine there won’t be another meeting where that room is 90 degrees in August…
I: …and the mayor is in his Hawaiian shirt and sandals!
N: We can only hope.
I: [LAUGHS] Well, thank you very much! Anything else you’d like to tell us today?
N: Sarah, it was a pleasure! And thanks for doing this.