By ARDEN BASTIA It was the early 1990s and Niles Madsen needed a career change. He was in his mid-forties, and working as an insurance claims examiner with Blue Cross in Maryland. "We were in a company-wide meeting one day when the boss told everyone
It was the early 1990s and Niles Madsen needed a career change.
He was in his mid-forties, and working as an insurance claims examiner with Blue Cross in Maryland.
“We were in a company-wide meeting one day when the boss told everyone there was no room to grow,” he described in an interview last Friday. “I knew I had to do something.”
It was then that he decided to return to school to pursue a career as a librarian.
So Madsen enrolled at the University of Rhode Island for his Master’s in library science.
“I needed to make a change. I love books. I have my own little library, and the position fit me to a T. I really didn’t think of it until within a couple of years before I went to library school,” he said.
He explained that one of the final requirements of his degree was to complete an internship. “The assistant director at the library heard I needed an internship and contacted me and suggested I go to Warwick. And it was just perfect timing, everything fell perfectly in place like dominos.”
In 1995, Madsen began working at the Warwick Public Library, and would continue for the next 25 years.
From intern, he filled the part-time position of a librarian on pregnancy leave, and then filled the full-time position of a librarian who retired.
“I liked them, and they certainly liked me,” said Madsen, laughing. “I used to run into Mary Anne Quinn [now the coordinator of adult services] and say that I can’t believe I get to get paid to do this job. I never looked at a clock and thought I can’t wait to get home.”
He says that if he were younger, “I would’ve worked longer.”
The passion for his job was evident in his voice, and even over the phone, his excitement was infectious.
With more than two decades of library experience, Madsen has learned what it takes to be a good librarian.
“If you don’t like books, then I don’t see the point,” he said. “But you’ve got to like people, and like the quest for knowledge.”
Madsen recalled his favorite moments working in the library took place when he was on the circulation desk, doing what he says was “a real customer service role.”
“I loved being on the desk when people came up and needed help or information or a book. There’s a lot of behind the scenes work, but being face to face to people is a big part of the job,” he said.
Madsen has a unique perspective: seeing first-hand how libraries have changed with rapidly evolving technology.
He explained that when he was first hired as a full-time librarian, there was a big reference section. “The world wide web just coming alive when I started. When we had a question about a TV show to legislation, we would go over and get a reference book to look it up. We don’t even have that anymore.”
Now, Madsen says more people come in with questions about using the Internet to apply for jobs or unemployment, or to access their email.
Technology, says Madsen, has “utterly and completely impacted the library.”
Impact of technology
Madsen says some technology, like e-books, have been an asset to the library, calling them “all the rage.”
“That’s a very positive thing. People can take books with them and for those that have trouble seeing, reading is more accessible,” he said. “It’s all about adjusting to the times.”
He noted that the Warwick Public Library “has always had directors who keep up with the times and adjust to the demands of changing technology and people’s needs.”
“We mail books out to people who are homebound, a service that was unheard of 10 years ago,” he said.
Likening the library to “a frontline institution like hospitals, police officers, and grocery stores,” Madsen noted that the “library is there to meet the needs of the community.” Especially during the pandemic, Madsen says the library doubled down on its commitment to serving the community.
“The City did a very good job of supporting the library and the library workers. The Warwick Library opened up quicker than other libraries,” he said. “And very quickly we did contactless book drops, because we were inundated with book donations.”
Because the library couldn’t hold its usual book donation sales, Madsen and other librarians volunteered to do book giveaways to library patrons.
“There are a myriad of things that people come into the library for, but sometimes people come in just because they need to see somebody,” he said, pointing out that for many, the library is a big social outing.
One of the most gratifying experiences of his time as a librarian, says Madsen, is when a library patron recognizes him outside of the library.
“I love living in Warwick and having people come up to me and say, oh that was my librarian, they helped me in school,” he said. “Parents will come up to me and thank me for helping their kids with assignments.” Helping students
Working with students was something Madsen loved most about his job. “The kids still come in, and in fact, a lot of their teachers require they come in and actually get print sources. It’s not always the case now, but it was certainly the standard 15 years ago.”
He talked about one particular assignment he loved helping students with. The assignment asked Bishop Hendricken High School juniors to do research utilizing library reference materials, like a Bible concordance and a Shakespeare concordance.
Even with the expansion of technology, Madsen believes “libraries will stay around.”
“The quest for knowledge will never end,” he said. “Books are not going to go away. There are many, many people who rely on books and library services.”
While he says he’ll miss the library, Madsen is looking forward to a relaxing retirement with golf, travel with his wife, volunteer work at his church, and of course, lots of reading.