Michael Straatmann has helped guide the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s libraries through the shifts and changes of technology and student needs for 30 years.
“Over the years, we’ve seen so many changes,” said Straatmann, who is the associate director for collection management for University Libraries. “The thing I enjoy most is our continual efforts to make sure that we grow at the same pace that our information and our patron needs are growing. I’m a strong advocate for continual improvement and change and I think that something that I’m most proud of is being able to continually evolve and change.”
While the libraries have changed, so has he. Straatmann started as a library student worker, trying to earn money to pay for college. In his role, he has directly and indirectly overseen more than 100 student workers at a time while tending to the libraries’ collections and managing his departments. After work, Straatmann can be found spending time with family and friends or participating in one of his hobbies, especially history reenactment.
Straatmann’s zeal for life in and outside of work is evident. When he’s not meeting with other Big Ten university library colleagues or maintaining collections, he’s on the battlefield reenacting historic battles like Gettysburg or the Battle of Hastings.
“When I was a student worker, I was invited to a reenactment and then one thing became another and now it’s a passion,” he said.
Straatmann pursues this passion in a number of ways. By making connections at battles, he’s become a director for a re-created viking fort in northeastern Missouri and has traveled all over the U.S. and internationally.
“Some of the battles are associated with museums where we’ll do an event over two days,” he said. “There’s a big one up in Rockford, Illinois. There we’ll spend a day doing educational demonstrations for school kids going through and then there’s an actual reenactment where there’s a series of battles throughout the day that you walk through and there are also tactical events that don’t recreate a specific event but are set in the time period. We’ll do Civil War events like Gettysburg or Shiloh where you go and sort of live like that for a week and repeat the battles. One of the other big ones we do is the Viking Age.”
Straatmann’s international travels included going to the U.K. for a reenactment of the Battle of Hastings at Senlac Hill, which required a letter from the English Heritage to make it through customs with the reenactment garb.
Straatmann is also focused on teaching his passion to the youth. He serves as a Scouting Venturing Crew committee chair, a role he grew into after serving as Scout leader for his son’s troops from the second grade on.
In Straatmann’s venturing crew, youth ages 14-20 learn primarily about history and history reenactment. They do the majority of the planning for the battles and the living history encampments as a way to learn leadership and more.
In addition to his passion for history reenactment, Straatmann has a passion for people, access to good information and giving back, which are all things that his role at the libraries fulfills.
When asked about his 30 years here, Straatmann said “It doesn’t feel like it should be that long.”
The dynamic nature of his work and his love for his job have made time fly. Everyday is different, and the institutional and career field changes have been constantly innovating. Throughout the years he’s enjoyed time with his wife, watching his son grow up, pursuing his hobbies and earning master’s degrees from the NU and the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Why’s he stayed so long? It’s simple:
“It becomes more and more apparent daily with the way our world is moving that the need to access information is critical for everyone on campus, not just the researchers or the students,” Straatmann said. “The concept of librarianship in general becomes more and more important. We have the ability to provide access to an amazing wealth of information. We are the largest library in the state of Nebraska, for the area we are the source of information and being able to play a role in providing access has always been the allure of librarianship to me.”
Straatmann has seen the library’s role in information access change with the rise of technology. While things like Google have created a wealth of information, he said that the new challenge for libraries is to help people understand how to find good resources for reliable information.
“We in academic libraries have by far the most appealing task to me in terms of our audience from undergraduates looking for general source material to researchers looking for very specific information for their research. There’s never a dull moment in being able to provide for those sorts of things.”
In pursuit of his mission to make all of the libraries’ collections as accessible as possible, Straatmann continues to collaborate with Big Ten colleagues and other university system colleagues to learn and teach about best practices.
“I think we do an excellent job at providing what we can with the resources we do,” he said. There have been several times when other Big Ten libraries have come to us to learn how we’re doing things and why. I do think we certainly stand out among our peers where we can with the resources available.”
The icing on the cake for Straatmann is the community that the university provides.
“Working here is an opportunity to give back to a community that gave so much to me,” he said. “I was a first generation student and to be able to help repay that is huge and one of the things I love about working here. I also think there’s so much camaraderie. People have a distinct love for what we do and who we are. That’s an awesome environment to be in. We have that tight knit community that we’re plugged into just by nature, all working at UNL or within the greater university system.”