CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Larry Neal continues to add impressive chapters to his own life.
Neal, the director of Clinton-Macomb Public Library, was announced on Sept. 19 as the 2013 Librarian of the Year by the Michigan Library Association. The award is a homage to someone who has had outstanding contributions over a long period of time.
Neal was nominated by former Clinton-Macomb Public Library director Christine Lind Hage, whom Neal has known for many years. Neal’s colleagues and staff also supported the nomination.
“I was surprised and greatly appreciative,” Neal, 48, said. “It felt so wonderful. To be nominated by your colleagues is a really great feeling that they, No. 1, (took) the time to write up a nomination and then to recognize what you’ve done. I don’t think about what I do. It’s so engrained in me now that if I’m asked to get involved in something and have the time to allocate it, it’s just an extension of my job, which is an extension of me.”
Neal described his position as similar to that of a school superintendent. He oversees the library facilities, hires the staff members, looks after programs and meeting spaces, and leads the community in what he calls the technology age.
“People have thought for many years that technology would replace libraries; it just has made us busier,” he said.
But way before the technology escalated to its present state, Neal got involved with libraries as an employee. He started putting books on shelves to fulfill a summer job in high school, all so he could go on an exchange trip to Germany. He then got enveloped in the microcosms of what makes a library tick, and his experience in technology and card catalogs became more than just skills he possessed. He began to apply his talents to improve libraries.
When he found out that he would need a master’s degree to move up in the profession, he took classes at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor while still completing his duties at the library. He commuted back and forth, and attained his degree in two and a half years.
Now, the library is like his second home. He wants others to see what libraries really entail.
“People that have this image of libraries as old, dusty places where books sit have mostly likely not been in a public library for a long time,” Neal said.
He is so passionate that he fought on the steps of the capitol building in Lansing to oppose budget cuts, acting as a spokesperson for saving what is sacred as it pertains to libraries and education. He admits that he is not a very confrontational person, but he wanted to defend what he believed in as best he could. He wanted to be the voice for the many thousands of people, from all walks of life, who walk through the doors of the library every day.
“I’m fighting for the people that are walking through this front door,” he said. “Everyone in the community can take advantage of this library. I’ve seen people come in that I know are millionaires and people that I know are homeless, and they’re all here for something.”
Neal was also voted in May as president of the 9,000-member national Public Library Association for 2014-15.
“Once you understand what your passion is and what you do is valuable and worth fighting for, you just do it because you have to, and you believe in it and people believe in you,” Neal said.