Our staff spotlight this month is Alex Johnson, the new Building Manager at Memorial Library. While he may be one of the newest hires by the Libraries, he already has a great “History” with the campus.

~by Arielle Perry

Alex Johnson, Memorial Library Building Manager
Alex Johnson, Memorial Library Building Manager

How long have you been in this position?
I started just over a month ago, so this is still a relatively new job for me. Before I took this position, I was a student at UW-Madison studying History, which is what I received my Bachelor’s degree in. I also worked in Access Services while I was a student here, and that’s how I found out about the job. The application process was extensive, and it was a nerve-wracking few months waiting, but here we are!

So what’s your favorite part of the job so far?

I really like that there are a lot of moving parts to it. I get to help different people solve their various problems, and really get into the nuts and bolts of how a facility of this size functions. There are little things, like if someone’s doorknob breaks, I go fix that, and if I can’t, I can find someone else to. There are larger aspects as well. I am going to be on a few different committees for instance, so that’s going to be really interesting. I’ll be working with the Space and Planning Committee that oversees the work done for all UW the libraries, not just Memorial. I also sit in on meetings for the construction that’s going on out front. I act as the liaison for the library and the Physical Plant, campus police, and other campus services. I help coordinate the different projects, like space renovations or things that come up if we need carpenters or electricians, and so on. At any given moment there are half a dozen projects I’m working on.
What is the most interesting part of the job so far? 
I get to work behind the scenes, there’s a lot more to this library than just the stacks. A lot more. It’s kind of a Frankenstein of a building too, so it has a lot of quirks. The different floors don’t match, and that’s because it’s three separate structures grafted into one library. There were a few separate building phases that happened, the original one in the 50s, then the 70s, then the late 80s. At one point they were building more space for collections. So they built up the entire structure, all the steel beams were in place. Then, it was realized that the finished building would obstruct the view of the skyline from Bascom. They had to tear it down and start over, and since they couldn’t build it as high as they wanted originally, they had less space and therefore had to use compact shelving. That meant more support was needed on each floor. So they rebuilt the section of the building to have much thicker floors, and so the levels are a bit off.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

Well, I’ve lived in the shadow of the Capitol for close to five years now, and I really enjoy all it has to offer like the concerts, restaurants, and people watching. Right now I’m reading Survivor by Palahniuk and Warrior Politics by Kaplan. I’m really interested in history and politics of conflict.

What’s the most interesting part about the libraries?
I’ve always found the different personality of each library interesting. Depending on the field of study, personal preference, or whether a patron is going to actually study, research, or relax, there is a library on campus that can provide an environment to facilitate that goal. I also really like to look into the history of the different buildings. What was where, when this or that part was built, what it looked like before, etc. I find all of that really fascinating.

One fact about yourself that most people would find interesting

Interesting? I don’t really know. In the summer of 2013 I visited Omaha Beach on D-Day. I went to France and the UK last summer, and our trip just happened to be planned at the right time. Normandy was great, but I think the people in Paris were exasperated with me because I don’t speak French…

Favorite Place in Madison?

That is a really tough question. Probably the square, or Observatory hill, or the bike trails, or the Greenbush neighborhood on a game day. I do have a soft spot for the Old Fashioned.

What’s one thing you would tell students about the libraries?

Grab a cup of coffee, find a nice little corner in Memorial’s North stacks to study, and get all your work done here so you can go home and have fun!