Thursday, July 9, 2015

Case Study No. 2079: Kelly Richards

Bookish? Outdoorsman, former Flint cop hired as Muskegon County's new top librarian
Bookish? Outdoorsman, former Flint cop hired as Muskegon County's new top librarian Subscribe Please . Kelly Richards can get your kids' attention telling stories from his time working as a cop in Flint.
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Bookish? Outdoorsman, former Flint cop hired as Muskegon County's new top librarian
By Stephen Kloosterman
on January 11, 2015 at 5:03 AM, updated January 11, 2015 at 5:07 AM

MUSKEGON, MI – Kelly Richards can get your kids' attention telling stories from his time working as a cop in Flint.

Then, he can get them a good book.

The Muskegon Area District Library has hired Richards from the Greater Flint area as its next library director. Despite being a librarian, he may be a more interesting man than the fictional fellow in the Dos Equis commercials.

He once worked as a cop in Flint, one of the nation's most dangerous cities. His career as a librarian stretched from Las Vegas to Pittsburgh. He loves to fish -- a hobby that he shares with many of Muskegon's residents.

He's got local roots. Sports fans, do you remember the name Percy Richards, Jr.? Kelly Richards' father, Percy, was on two state championship Muskegon Heights basketball teams in the 1950s.

Kelly Richards' parents left the Muskegon area for Flint, but he still has many relatives in the area. He would often visit the relatives in the summer, and he remembers fishing off the SS Milwaukee Clipper docked in Muskegon Lake.

"I used to fish with my legs crossed next to that big boat," he said.

He still fishes as a way to relax. On Friday, Jan. 9, he said was getting ready for an ice-fishing expedition. "I'm a very avid fisherman," the 49-year-old said.

An interesting career path

Richards has been working in libraries since the early-1990s, but worked for years before that as a policeman.

The daily grind of police work wore on him. He remembers responding to as many as 30 dispatches a day. There was no time to do anything proactive for the community.

"I did not have a chance to be like Andy Griffith," he said. "It became frustrating for me."

He was in Las Vegas when he happened to walk into a library. A woman in the library recommended he apply for a job there. He did. The woman hired somebody else, but she recommended Richards for a job across town. This time, he got hired.

"That was how I got into the field," he said.

His second career as a librarian took off after he was discovered by E.J. Josey, the first male African-American president of the American Library Association (the very first African-American President of the ALA was a woman, Clara Stanton Jones, in 1976).

Josey urged Richards to come to the University of Pittsburgh, where Josey was a professor, and to earn a Master's degree in library science.

"I said, 'Well, hey, it sounds good, but I got a brand-new baby -- I mean, brand new – and the wife is here with me.'"

Josey went to work and eventually offered Richards a position as graduate student assistant so that he could get paid and support his family while still attending school.

"I took the opportunity," Richards said. "You just couldn't beat that."

Richards worked as a librarian in Pittsburgh before ending up at the Genesee County Library in 2003.

Getting hired

Meanwhile, in Muskegon, the Muskegon Area District Library Board of Trustees was looking for applications. Steven Dix, the director of MADL for seven years, transitioned to a part-time status during the search process.

After the board unsuccessfully tried to hire a new director on its own, it turned to a recruitment firm in the fall of 2014.

"The library board was blessed with a number of qualified individuals," said the board chair, Doug Hughes. Twenty-eight applications were received. Eight of those individuals were interviewed by Skype Internet video, and then four of those individuals were interviewed in person.

Kelly stood out as a highly qualified individual.

"The board settled on Kelly based on his experience," Hughes said. "He's been in bigger cities. He's won awards."

Richards said he learned the craft of library outreach at earlier jobs.

"I really want to put my ear to the ground and find out what the community wants, and what the community needs," he said. "It's just a matter of what I can do to add to the foundation that's already there in the system."

And he has a never-fail trick for getting kids' attention.

"It's kind of funny," he said. "When I was in Las Vegas, I quickly realized the quickest way to get the attention of the young people was to talk about police stories."

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