13 Questions With: Michael David Miller
July 23, 2017
Liaison Librarian for French Language Literature, Economics & LGBTQ+ Studies / McGill University
Who inspires you in your career?
I have a few people that inspire me. They are friends, family members, and people I do not even know, but admire from afar.
Firstly, my Aunt Lisa has always been like a mother to me and has supported, pushed and challenged me all thought my life. My great friend Jessica Schuhrke that I have known ever since my 19th birthday has been a person who has supported, questioned and even disagreed with my decisions because she has only ever wanted to see me succeed. These two have been such great support systems and have without a doubt helped get me to where I am today.
Every colleague I have worked in at the MSU Libraries, les Bibliothèques de l’Université de Montréal, the McGill University Library and through association work, they collectively inspire me to continue to work to be the best librarian I can possibly be.
Then, there are all my LGBTQ+ Librarian, Library Technician and Library Assistant colleagues across the world that everyday work in their own unique ways to help make our libraries more inclusive, welcoming and beautiful for all the constituents of their library. They do this even when local and national laws can make their activism dangerous and even at times illegal. Thank you to you all. Merci à vous toutes et à vous tous !
The first job you ever held and at what age and your first position in the library and/or information services field?
My first taxpaying job was at McDonald’s in Swartz Creek, Michigan.
My first position in a library was at the Main Library of Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan. I obtained a job as a shelver my first semester at MSU. I did that for a semester and then walked to the circulation desk in December of 2006, spoke with the Head of circulation, Kriss Ostrom at the time, and asked if they had any room for a new employee. The following semester began my long and very enjoyable 4.5 years in the MSU Main Library’s Circulation Department. I also worked briefly at the library’s copy centre and did a little facility work. Thank you, Kriss Ostrom, for helping launch my international and multilingual career in academic librarianship!
Following my two years as a Technicien en documentation at the Bibliothèque des lettres et sciences humaines at Université de Montréal. My first position as a librarian was a six-month contract at the Bibliothèque paramédicale of Université de Montréal where I was one of three Bibliothécaires de référence en sciences paramédicales.
Why a career in librarianship?
While at Michigan State University (MSU) I did two bachelor’s degrees, one in advertising studies and one French language and literature studies. In the summer of 2008, I did a French immersion programme at École des langues de l’Université Laval in Québec City. After that summer, my goal was to move back to Québec City and work in advertising in the Francophone world. After the automobile crash in Michigan, a lot of the advertising agencies closed, lots of experienced advertisers were unemployed, and I decided I did not want to work in such a volatile environment. I also had fundamental problems convincing people they needed to purchase things they simply did not need. Thus, I decided I was going to become a Librarian for French Literature.
I wanted to work on collection development and help scholars find resources for their research projects. I also like the research and service aspects to my position at McGill. I get to work on my own research projects in French language and literature. I also like the service aspect of my job. Working at McGill, I established the Assemblée LGBTQ+ des milieux documentaires du Québec that will focus on improving library services and collections for LGBTQ+ Québécois, as well as work on preserving and promoting Québec’s LGBTQ+ unique, rare and special heritage collections.
I particularly love how libraries and librarians work to democratize access to information and to make libraries examples of diversity, inclusion and equity for our societies.
When I started thinking about librarianship, I had no idea it could be so fulfilling.
Coolest thing in your cubicle or office?
A baby Tajine that I keep coffee machine change in it. It has a sentimental value for me. My first ever colleague as an academic librarian, Assia Mourid, gave it to me when I left Université de Montréal for McGill University.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolat Favori! It is this amazing ice cream parlour in the Place des arts of Montréal and is simply divine! So many types of chocolate to dip your ice cream in! I think my two favourite choclate dips are caramel fleur de sel and biscuits et crème. Miam miam maim (French for Yum Yum Yum)
Career advice – what’s your top tip?
Understand our literature and the reality of libraries. Understand the greater ecosystems in which our libraries are found. Libraries and librarians always need defending and when we have a solid foundation of what we do and why we do it, it makes it better to defend.
Never be afraid or too proud to ask questions when you neither understand nor know something.
Challenge existing structures, powers, and ways of doing things in our libraries, and most importantly, offer solutions to improve them.
Develop a few 90 second elevator speeches: One that describes what you do (I know this is hard), one that describes how libraries are good for people / societies and a final one describing why libraries are not dying … I still need to refine my own elevator speeches.
I think the most important thing is being humble and accepting that you will make mistakes, there will be moments when you simply do not understand and there will be moments when you say things that may displease colleagues and patrons. Be humble enough to apologize, admit you made a mistake and to admit that you were wrong.
What useless skill(s) do you possess?
I can French braid and, according to native speaking friends, I can pronounce Russian, Portuguese and Dutch very well. The latter skill could go from being useless to useful if I were to spend more time studying those three languages.
Proudest moment in your professional life?
My proudest moment, thus far, was when my very first stagiaire, Urooz Nizami, obtained her first official employment offer as an academic librarian. A colleague of mine and I hired Urooj for a practicum where we studied subject-librarian involvement with subject-specific student-driven journals. Urooj was such a great contributor to this project and really help us evolve it into what it is today. Mentoring her this past year and a half has been one of my favourite aspects of my job and seeing her advance in her young career makes me want work with more practicum students as my career advances.
If you had 24 hours all to yourself, how would you best like to spend it
I would start my day by making breakfast and heading to the gym. After the gym, this spa in Montréal Bota Bota where I would read my current book La femme qui fuit, 2016 winner of le Prix des libraires du Québec (this is an amazing read, trust me, I’m the Librarian for French Literature). After an afternoon at Bota Bota, I would walk home, cutting through beautiful Vieux-Montréal, stop by la Place-des-arts and get caramel fleur de sel dipped ice cream at Chocolat Favori, and then head home where I would marathon a season of RuPaul’s Drag Race with a few glasses of wine or brandy.
If you didn’t work in the information industry, what would you be doing?
I see myself somewhere in the cultural milieu that conserves, preserves and diffuses the cultural memory of Québec.
Maybe the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, or for an organisation such as le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, le Conseil des arts de Montréal, or maybe some type of LGBTQ+ organisation such as Fierté Montréal?
Finish this sentence: “In high school, I would have been voted the person most likely to … “
I messaged four friends and one responded, “most likely to be a foreign diplomat. You’ve always been so interested in people and language, it never surprised me that you moved out of the States.”
I think other friends would have completed the sentence in the manner: “In high school, Michael would have been voted the person most likely to move France.”
Fortunately, I did not more to France, rather I moved to Québec. Nous nous sommes retrouvés par hasard, vous m’avez accueilli avec des bras très ouverts et nous sommes tombés amoureux ! Québec, je t’aime !
How do you stay current in your field?
I Browzine, Twitter, Facebook and random literature search. I also have a few search alerts in LISA and LISTA. One thing that is important to me is reading as much as possible in multiple languages.
I read regularly LIS journals in French and English and struggle through LIS journals in Portuguese and Spanish. I want to have a large diverse understanding of LIS thought across languages and cultures.
What would you like your headstone to read?
I won’t have a headstone because I want to be cremated and put into one of those cool Bios Urns and help give life to a baby tree.