TADL Staff Spotlight: Aaron Olson


Aaron Olson, Sight and Sound Manager
Traverse Area District Library – Main Library

How long have you worked at TADL and why did you choose this career?

I was hired in January 1997, so I’m nearing twenty-two years of service. Sometime during high school I became naturally drawn to film. Perhaps I come by it genetically since my grandfather, W.J. Olson, was a lens crafter and owned thirteen movie theaters across Michigan, including his signature theater called The Pines (built in 1941) in Houghton Lake. My interests and education were focused on film production, radio, and the underground music scene.

The former Traverse Area District Library in the Carnegie library on Sixth Street, Traverse City, had a great collection of music and movies which was championed by the Library Director, Mike McGuire. At the time, I’d say that Mike didn’t really want to hire me to work at the library… but I was persistent (wry smile.)

How has your interest in film specifically influenced the collection and programs at TADL?

I’d say that the biggest programmatic addition, as far as film goes, is the creation of Cinema Curiosa. One of the ways that we shake up the traditional paradigm that libraries are just repositories of books, is to offer other materials and programs that meet a need in the community.

Back in 2001, there were no theatres that screened independent or documentary cinema in Traverse City. At that time, the State Theatre was shut down and we only had the Carmike Cinema at the Grand Traverse Mall which featured the mainstream popular movies. So we created Cinema Curiosa, which screens a documentary or independent film typically on the first Friday on the month in the McGuire Community Room, after the library is closed. And, the best part is that there’s no charge to attend. Since its inception, we’ve screened over eighty films.

In June 2018 we also introduced a digital service platform called Kanopy. This Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform that offers a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries for free. Kanopy includes children’s programming with its subdivision Kanopy Kids. TADL District residents may view four titles per month, per library card account.

In addition to Cinema Curiosa, what are other aspects of the Sight & Sound collections are you most proud of?  

The music collection is both broad and deep. It’s one of the largest music collections in a public library in Michigan. No matter what genre of music you appreciate or would like to explore, it’s likely that we have it. In particular, I’m very happy that we have a community of listeners that use the collection. The opportunity for a middle or high school age student to go to the Main Library and be exposed to a wide range of musical experiences is incredible! And, we have a number of internationally renowned musicians that were early listeners of and influenced by the music at TADL.

The second collection addition that I’m proud of is our musical equipment lending project. Patrons can now check out a guitar, ukulele, xylophone and more. In fact, a few weeks ago, a little girl was in the department and playing with the xylophone in the library. She was so enamored by it and wanted to check it out. She was clutching it so hard in her arms, that I had to convince her that I would give it right back to her as soon as I scanned it to lend it out. So, in these ways, I’m really glad that we continually bring new resources to lend to patrons of the library and thus remove the financial barriers for access to these learning experiences.

There are shelves behind the service desk in the Sight & Sound department with an assortment of Pop-Culture items. What’s the story behind that?

Well, yeah, it’s something to behold for yourself. (Laughs) It’s a dense, visual maximalism shrine to pop-culture ephemera (collectibles). Basically, our department staff all started contributing to that assemblage over time. It’s pretty common to have a patron walk up to the service desk in Sight & Sound, and when we ask, “Can I help you?” they reply, “No, no. I just came over to stare at your wall.”

When people ask us about it, we tell them that it’s a curated collection which is advised by a board of Fortune 500 business executives that approve the selected items.

What’s one thing that people may not know about the TADL libraries?

The library offers truly limitless learning potential. Regardless of whether you’re reading, or listening, or watching something, the library offers an individual so many opportunities for self-improvement, to expand your horizons and change your skills or abilities.

The reason that I get excited to come to work, every day, is a chance to exceed expectations of our patrons and truly blow their minds with what TADL has for them!