Staff meetings and official communications can tell you what Ed Van Gemert has planned for the UW Libraries, but we’d like to share a candid interview with the new Vice Provost for Libraries and University Librarian.  In his own words:

“I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously.”

Ed Van Gemert

Library News & Events: So, I hear you are an avid cyclist.  How many miles have you logged so far this year?

Ed Van Gemert: I usually bike between 4 and 5 thousand miles every year—unlike our friend Lance, I only drink chocolate milk as a supplement.  Normally, I’d be biking to work each morning, but I gave it up for the winter after I broke my collarbone.  I still train indoors, but my wife put her foot down and said “No more commuting!”

My family is Dutch, so biking and skating are favorite outdoor activities.  My granddaughter Amelia is two and a half, and I’ve been teaching her how to skate at Tenney Park.

LN&E: Where are you from originally?

EVG: The Green Bay area, a little town called De Pere, which is much larger now than it was when I was growing up.  We lived in a big old house with enough bedrooms that my brother and I could sleep in a different one every night of the week.  It was too much for just the two of us and my parents, really—our small, Dutch family, everyone focused on work. When I went to school, I started at St. Norbert College, so I was in my hometown.  I only lasted one year there, though, and then I transferred to UW-Madison.

LN&E: So that’s how you found your way to Madison!  What prompted the transfer?

EVG: The big university worked for me—much more than the small college setting.  I felt much more engaged in academics here, and I studied everything:  geology, history, political science, languages, the history and culture of South Asia.

I had several different majors, but I did eventually end up settling on political science, mostly because I had taken enough courses that counted toward that degree.  It’s amazing that I managed to graduate in four years.

LN&E: What about library science?

EVG: After graduating, I floated around for awhile; I worked for the School of Nursing in their Instructional Media Center and a few other places.  As a student, I had worked here in Memorial, and I always had libraries in the back of my mind.

When I went to grad school in LIS and began my library career, I began as a cataloger!  Librarians never believe me when I say that, but it’s true.  I really enjoyed cataloging work, but eventually moved to more public service roles, especially reference.  Now, of course, one of my main interests is UW Libraries’ services and programs– how we use library spaces to support how we teach.

LN&E: A lot of the new spaces in UW Libraries focus on collaborative and tech-based learning.  Are you a gadget person?

EVG: Oh, yes.  I’m always experimenting with new tech.  I got an iPad for my birthday, and now all of my news and leisure reading happens on the iPad.  At work, I still like hard copy, because I like to make notes, but I’ve really become a convert.  It’s nice to load the iPad up with books and take it on trips.

My wife and I have a condo in Door County that we saved for over 25 years, and we try to spend as much time up there as possible.  There’s no TV, no internet.  We do have a radio, but basically the only activities allowed at the condo are reading, walking, eating, and sleeping.  I’ve read quite a lot on the iPad there.

Click to find this title in the catalog.

EVG: Both.  I do a lot of reading from the New York Times list for fiction, and I just finished David Maraniss’ biography of Barack Obama, which was quite a story.

The next thing on my list is “They Marched into Sunlight,” which is also by Maraniss.  He’s originally from Wisconsin, and this book is about the antiwar protests that took place on campus during Vietnam.

LN&E: So, I’ve heard some buzz about your family in the arts.

EVG: Yes, yes.  We’re deep into music and theater.  I mentioned how I grew up:  staid Dutch family in a huge DePere home with two boys.  My wife’s family is just the opposite:  She’s Italian, and she grew up in a family of nine in a tiny house with one bathroom.

Their family gatherings are all about celebration—food, music, talk.  At first, it was a shock to me when someone would get up from the dinner table to grab a guitar, and then next moment the whole table is singing—I wasn’t sure what to do.  But I got used to it, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s been a gift.

And our family is very close: my wife and daughter are both teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District, and my son-in-law is an administrator there–

LN&E: And your son makes a living singing!

EVG: He does.  I had no idea how studying musical theater in school worked, but when Michael realized that was his passion after being cast as the lead in his high school play, we all learned together as he applied for colleges and eventually transferred to Western Michigan.  He met his wife, Erin, there, and they went on the road to perform right after they graduated.  My wife and I have been to the Baltic, Russia, and the Mediterranean—all over the world—to watch their shows.

LN&E: Do you have a favorite show?

EVG: Oh, there are so many.  It’s hard to choose, but I like Singin’ in the Rain.  I like Cabaret a lot, too. Michael is really wonderful in classic, Gene Kelly roles.

LN&E: How does your creativity come out in the midst of all this singing at home?

EVG: Honestly, I wish I had more time to write creatively.  I do have one specialty, though:  I make apple pie.  When we lived in Monona, I was on the board of directors for the library, and we organized a pie-making contest as a fundraiser one year.  That was when I decided to learn how to make a pie, and I’ve been making apple pie ever since.  I use Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples and a butter crust.  There are some beautiful apple orchards in Door County, so there are lots of pies in the fall.

LN&E: So, you’ve been in the Madison area a long time with your family. 

EVG: {laughs} We have!  Yes, it’s a bit unusual for someone to spend their entire career at one institution.  I suppose I could have pursued other jobs, gone on to be a director, but that was never a priority for me.  I always made my career choices with my family in mind; that balance is always the most important thing.

I’m committed to this place, and I want to make it the best library system it can be.  I want the staff to be creative and to take pride in what they do.

LN&E: Well, how about new staff who are just moving to Madison? What are your top three recommendations for things to do in and around the city?

Devil's Lake, Photo by Flickr User Aff1737
Devil’s Lake, WI.

EVG: Well, I’ve got three categories of things:

  • State Parks: I love taking advantage of  the park system and the access to natural lands we have here in Madison, whether you like biking, swimming or hiking.  Blue Mound State Park and Devil’s Lake are two favorites.
  • Restaurants: I highly recommend getting a slice of pie at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner—doesn’t matter which kind, they’re all good.  I really enjoy going to classic diners with my family, and we love Bunky’s.
  • Music: Madison has so many wonderful music venues, both on-campus and off.  The Stoughton Opera House is a great venue, and not far from Madison.