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College of Information and Communications

From aspirations to reality

Posted August 14, 2019 

Thanks to its modern facilities, cutting-edge technology and creative programming, Richland Library has become an integral part of its community and a model for public libraries nationwide. Executive Director Melanie Huggins (MLIS, 1995) has been a driving force behind Richland Library’s transformation since taking the helm more than a decade ago. We caught up with Huggins to ask about her vision and the role the CIC played in shaping it. 

You’ve led many changes and been at the head of much of the modernization of the Richland Library system. How were you able to make those changes happen and really revolutionize and revitalize the system?
It really started with a focus on the needs of the community and what we wanted to help our customers achieve. We stopped asking people what they wanted from their library (because only past or current library users can answer that question) and started asking, “What are the aspirations for your community? What are your community assets?” With that information, we created the “Library as Studio” model and aligned our facilities, the staff and their talents around the idea that libraries help people learn, create and share.

What’s the most interesting or significant thing you’ve done since graduating?
In terms of significant and interesting, this job is really up there because of the way we’ve transformed the space for the community and work culture for the team. But I hope, in the long run, the most significant thing I’ll ever do is be a mother to three kids. [Editors note: Melanie is married to JC Huggins (Master of Mass Communication, 1993)]

What are a few goals that you still have for your future career?
I really don’t think in terms of what I want for myself or what my professional goals are. I just try to do a good job where I am, make an impact where I can and support the people I work with the best I can. If I have a goal at all, it is the library never, ever, has to justify its value to the community; that everyone who lives here knows how critical a public library is to the quality of life we all want to enjoy, and my staff find value and joy in their jobs.

What are you passionate about in your work?
That changes … a lot! Right now, my team and I are focused on racial equity and inclusion — and what that looks like when you apply that lens to everything you do in your organization. That work is energizing and difficult.

What did you learn while in school at the CIC that still resonates today?
Grant writing!

Do you have a favorite professor or a favorite memory from your time at the CIC?
I got married to JC during my last semester, and my Young Adult Literature class threw me a surprise wedding shower. I still have and use some of the gifts from those classmates, 24 years later. Librarians are smart and practical gift givers!

Many SLIS students aspire to hold positions such as yours in the future. What advice do you have for them?
You come out of grad school with a set of skills, some ideas and you think you know what the work will be. Rarely, in my experience and what I’ve observed, does the training ever fully prepare you for the actual work in a public library. So be humble, keep learning (not about libraries, but about local government, human-centered design, etc.) and be a good colleague! You never know when one of your co-workers will become your boss … or you theirs. ;)

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