DECATUR — Becoming director of the Van Buren District Library system was a homecoming of sorts, said Dan Hutchins, who started in the position Dec. 4.
“This (opportunity) came along, and it just seemed to make sense because this region is where my wife is from, and I’ve been visiting this area for the past 17 years or so, so I was very familiar with it and attached to it,” he said.
His wife, Emily Kubash, said she grew up in Benton Township and is a 1993 graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School in St. Joseph.
“My family lives in the Benton Harbor/St. Joe area,” she said.
Kubash said the reason she left Southwest Michigan is the same reason she wanted to return.
“When I was younger, I was looking for a faster-paced life, which you do get on the east side. There’s just more going on,” she said. “But, the older I get, the more I miss Lake Michigan. I miss the beach.”
Hutchins said he wanted a change not so much professionally, but personally.
He said he lived his entire life in Rochester, a northern suburb of Detroit, and spent more than 20 years working at a variety of libraries before moving to Kalamazoo and taking the Van Buren job.
He said his first job as a library director was at the Harrison Township Library in Macomb County.
“It’s a pretty unique story,” he said. “The people in Harrison Township had never had a library.”
He said a group of people started an all-volunteer library and, after five years, the township passed a millage so a director could be hired.
“When I started, my job was to convert them from being an all-volunteer library to being a taxpayer-funded library,” he said.
After two-and-one-half years, he said he felt it was time for a change and applied for the Van Buren position.
“I started to look for opportunities that would allow me to exist in a different environment,” he said.
The library director’s job at the two library systems have little in common, he said.
“It’s a completely different set of responsibilities,” he said. “Before, I was working in a fairly small library with a small staff, so everything was hands-on. If something needed to be done, chances were good that I’d be the one doing it.”
The Van Buren District Library system includes seven branches, with the administrative headquarters in Decatur.
“In this library system, I have a very large staff, so I have people who do things for me,” he said.
Although the size and scope of his job has changed, he said his mission has stayed the same – to let people know about the importance of libraries.
“Society has forgotten that public libraries are educational institutions,” he said. “My vision is to remind people that we are an institution of lifelong learning.”
He said many communities view libraries as an optional service.
“We are not a service. We are education, and education is not discretionary if our society and our country is to be competitive in the world,” he said. “... Education does not stop at the end of high school or the end of college. In this environment, people have to retrain throughout their entire life. Oftentimes, that’s retraining on your own.”
He said the well-known actor Harrison Ford is a great example of how important libraries are.
“When Harrison Ford was an out-of-work actor, he went to the public library and taught himself carpentry by checking out public library books and made a living as a carpenter,” Hutchins said.
He said Ford was working full time as a carpenter when George Lucas offered him the part as Han Solo in “Star Wars.”
Hutchins said he sees people every day using the resources in his libraries to help them find a job. He said many people don’t have access to the internet or don’t know how to use it. He said libraries offer free internet access, and librarians understand how to get the most out of the internet.
He said libraries are often a child’s first experience with books, especially for children who don’t attend preschool.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege