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'We're in an exciting era': Detroit Lakes' new library director is relishing her role in the community

Perham native Greta Guck is the new director of the Detroit Lakes Public Library. She took over the reins from her predecessor, Mary Haney, on Jan. 2. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

When the Detroit Lakes Public Library's new director, Greta Guck was growing up in Perham, Minnesota, being a librarian was not something she ever considered as a potential career.

"It was never on my radar," she said in a Thursday interview.

Though she loved the local public library, and spent a lot of time there, the young Greta had set her sights on becoming a teacher.

"After graduating from Perham High School, I went to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities and got a bachelor's degree in English," Guck said. "Then I went back for my teaching license in secondary English, and did my student teaching."

But as she was wrapping up her coursework, Guck realized that being a full-time teacher "wasn't quite for me."

So even while doing some substitute teaching work in the metro area, she was already beginning to look around for other career options.

"I had no idea what I wanted to do," Guck said candidly. "But I was spending a lot of time at the public library in Minneapolis, and that was when I realized — I love interacting with people, I love the environment that libraries provide... it's a real melting pot, with such a diverse population, all gathering in this one spot.

"It finally dawned on me that people work at libraries," she said. "So I started researching graduate schools."

Eventually, Guck applied to and was accepted at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where she earned her Master of Information and Library Science (MILS) degree from the School of Information Studies (SOIS).

"I absolutely loved it," she said of the MILS program. "Right in the first semester, I knew — this is where I belong."

Because she had arrived at this conclusion so late, however, "I was determined to get the most out of the program," Guck said. "I didn't know what I wanted to specialize in... with an MILS, you can go in so many different directions. But I worked as a school librarian while I was in graduate school, and I interned at the college library and a public library, and also worked at a special library at the School of Theology, which served the seminary.

"By the time I graduated, I had made up my mind that it was public libraries — that's where I wanted to be."

Rather than returning to her native Minnesota, however, Guck found herself moving to North Dakota, where she got her first post-graduate school job at the Minot Public Library.

"It's kind of remote," she said of the Minot area. "It's an hour from the Canadian border."

After a couple of years at Minot as the library's technology coordinator, Guck got a job as the director of the Leach Public Library in Wahpeton, N.D., where she would spend the next 2½ years.

"During that time I was also heavily involved in the North Dakota Library Association," Guck said. "I spent a year as president, and a year as past president. I got to go all over the state, and met and worked with all the librarians, throughout North Dakota. It was super interesting."

After nearly five years in North Dakota, Guck found herself moving back to Wisconsin, where she spent a year working at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library in Eau Claire before finally coming back to her home state to take a job at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.

"I was hired as the youth services librarian (at Detroit Lakes) in September of 2017," Guck said, "and I did that until I became the director."

Guck took over the reins as the Detroit Lakes Library's director on Jan. 2 — a bit earlier than planned, as her predecessor, Mary Haney, had originally intended to retire at the end of January.

But after Haney was injured in a late December accident that left her temporarily unable to work (she has since recovered), Guck's promotion to her new position was moved up by a month.

In her new position as director at Detroit Lakes — which is a branch of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library (LARL) — Guck also supervises the staff at the public libraries in Mahnomen and Bagley, as well as the smaller library LINK sites in Frazee, Lake Park, Cormorant and Gonvick.

"I work closely with the (LARL) regional office staff to set policies and procedures, and I also work with the staff at all of these other locations to provide the very best library services and programs to their respective communities," Guck said.

So far, her job has involved "a lot of emailing," she joked, but she has also been busy attending meetings at the regional office in Moorhead and traveling between the various branches that she supervises.

"I'm based here (in Detroit Lakes), but the position does involve a fair amount of travel," she said. "I really do love it here though. The staff is phenomenal. They really strive to have an awareness of our community's needs, and to get to know their patrons."

She credits the staff at Detroit Lakes, LARL and the other libraries she supervises with helping to smooth the transition into her new position.

In turn, Guck says, "my role is to make sure the staff at all these sites have all the training they need, and are able to give their input on their community's needs and how we can meet them.

"We're in an exciting era for libraries," she continued. "Our core services are still there — getting the books you want, coming in for storytime, book club and all the programs we offer — but we're also branching out from that, to really look at new and innovative ways to get outside our four walls and into the community, to serve people right where they're at."

Guck said she is "super excited" to get to know the community better, and to develop relationships with "all the wonderful organizations" that partner with the library to offer the public services which make Detroit Lakes "such a wonderful community."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454