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Laker of the week: Michael Ries

Michael Ries, Southwest’s media specialist/librarian, has been working as a teacher for a long time. He started outside the city, working at Catholic schools around New Ulm. The move to the cities was for his wife’s work, where he didn’t get right into teaching at all, and being employed at a flower shop for a year. “I was hired by a woman, who called me out of the blue,” Ries said, “She asked if I wanted to be a media specialist. To which I literally said, ‘What is a media specialist?’” He ended up taking the job at an elementary school, but it was rather out of the way, for which he moved deeper into Southwest Minneapolis. He said that he enjoyed working with smaller kids as opposed to high schoolers, but the elementary school was closing, and the position was no longer available. “So I thought I’d do high school,” he said, “I went mostly so I didn’t have a long commute somewhere else.”

His first impressions of Southwest were not good. He said that before the remodel, “It was a big, dirty building that covered a lot of space.” He worked in the East building, where the library/media center space covered the entirety of the main floor south of the courtyard. He called it “dingy and dark,” and was infested with mice. He used to find books that the mice had eaten, and he recalled on one occasion when he was called to fix a printer, and upon opening the paper tray he discovered two families of mice both living inside. “I screamed, and ran.” Ries admitted.

His favorite thing about his job at Southwest is the community. “I do enjoy interacting with kids,” he said, saying that he just likes getting to help them and to run the library for those kids. His least favorite thing is the constant organization. “It’s constantly an organization thing. I’m always organizing.” He explained that the media center has a lot of books, and that finding them in the first place is often the hardest part. “I always say, with this job, there’s never a point where you’re done, it’s this is what I can get done for the day.’” He mentioned that most of his job, at least in the last five years, has been about the chromebooks, and figuring those out for the kids. “Every day I’m dealing with chromebooks, in some way or another. Somebody’s always got something.” He said that it’s been especially difficult this year because of a lack of help. He used to have library aides who would help with the chromebooks and the shelving for the physical books.

He said that he has noticed a slight downward trend regarding the library’s visitor numbers, but that in general, the people that really like the library will still go. He spoke of a minority of people who actually favor the library over just reading a book by themselves, “There are kids that just come because they want a quiet space,” Ries said. He mentioned how in the age of the cell phone, he’s noticed a growing number of kids who go to the library as a way to separate themselves from the hectic nature of modern life. “I’ve known plenty of kids that don’t even want to think about [their phone]. Their phone is something that bothers them. It’s always in the background. In the library, they can really tune off.”

The day to day for the Southwest librarian is varied. His day consists of everything from checking books in to doing power washes of chromebooks. For him, no two days are the same. He brought up his first year at Southwest, “[It] happened to be the year of 9/11.” He recalled the hectic day he had had, “It was this big news event, we couldn’t figure out what was going on. And I remember literally running through the building helping teachers hook up TVs, because they wanted to see what was going on.”

As the librarian, he was also heavily involved with the hacking of the School district last spring. The words he used to describe that was, “chaotic, and crazy.” “Everybody had to have their passwords changed.” He recalled coming into school and finding the entire staff team disconnected from the school’s systems, with new passwords that had to be sifted through and handed out to every admin, teacher, and student. “It was quite the challenge.” Not as much of a challenge, however, as the wiring work he did when he first started. He began working before internet was common in most schools, and he was responsible for getting the infrastructure in place required for that. “I’ve done everything from installing wifi access points, to literally running wires through the walls.”

After this year, Ries isn’t returning to Southwest. After 23 years of working at the school he is retiring for good. For him, the next step is to “Really retire.” He said that he plans on going to Tucson, Arizona. “I have lots of relatives in Tucson, so it feels almost as home as it does here.” He’s also looking forward to performing with several bands he’s part of. His immediate first step as a new retiree is to see Noah Kahan at the Hollywood Bowl in California. “I’m definitely ready to retire.”

“I’ve been really lucky to be here,” he said about his time at Southwest. “I will miss you guys.”

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About the Contributor
Graham Graydon
Graham Graydon, Variety Editor
Graham Graydon is in his second year at the Navigator. He is a staff writer specializing in Opinion pieces. He swims for Southwest and enjoys cooking and board games.

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