Fairfield’s new library director, Alecs Mickunas, is excited to show people what amazing resources and community hubs libraries continue to be. “Libraries are not what they were 15 to 20 years ago,” Mickunas says. “Libraries are meant to be places for dialogue, places that encourage free community engagement. They’re not a place to sit and study and read exclusively anymore. There will always be a place for that, but the time of people being shushed by librarians is far behind us now. And so, families can use the library without fear of being scolded.”
Mickunas feels one of his responsibilities as director is “to adapt the library to the times we live in today.” This includes investing in new technology, making the library computers accessible to everyone by providing both Apple and PC options, expanding the foreign language section to reflect Fairfield’s diverse population, and ensuring the library is a safe space for community connection. “As a librarian, I believe in removing all barriers to access,” Mickunas says. “Anyone who is sincerely seeking the library’s resources or needs the space should be able to use it.”
He plans on “continuing to expand the library as more of a community space—a place for dialogue, a place for creativity, and a place where new connections are made between people. I really love thinking the library is a place where people can meet for the first time—that new friendships emerge from this space.”
Mickunas will be familiar to library patrons, as he replaced Afton Hallauer as Youth Services Librarian when she stepped down in 2020. He has created highly successful youth programming over the last few years, including a number of well-attended themed storytimes, after-school activities, and summer reading programs. Mickunas became the director after Rebecca Johnson retired, taking over from interim director Kathy Arri.
Originally in the education field, Mickunas studied Japanese language and literature as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa; he even studied abroad at the University of Tokyo from 2006–2007. Mickunas ended up teaching English in Japan from 2011–2014. His interest in Japanese language and culture was piqued in the fourth grade when he learned Des Moines had a Japanese sister city, and he began studying Japanese in high school. His positive experiences with the supportive university librarian who managed the East Asian language literature section sparked an interest in library science. After coming back to the U.S. and teaching in the Iowa school system, he says that remembering the support and encouragement he got from various librarians inspired him to pursue a library science degree.
Mickunas grew up with a love for books and libraries. As a child, his mother took him on weekly library excursions, where he always checked out a stack of books. He ended up working at his neighborhood public library during his senior year of high school, and really enjoyed it. So he has, to some extent, come full circle.
Mickunas moved into the director’s position just as the popular Summer Reading Program was ramping up. Currently balancing the responsibilities of both positions while reviewing candidates for the Youth Services position, Mickunas is grateful to the library staff and volunteer community for making things less hectic. Mickunas also plans on revitalizing the Friends of the Library Association, so there will be a strong volunteer base to provide assistance.
Mickunas has lots of ideas for library activities that will benefit the whole community and engage every generation. He’s happy to announce the return of Tech Tuesdays, the addition of presentations by local experts, and the development of future programs that more fully reflect the people that live in Fairfield.
Mickunas also feels the Fairfield Public Library should join a national trend in libraries becoming fine free. “One of the things that’s definitely a barrier for many people, especially in rural communities, is the fines,” he says. A handful of Iowa libraries have already abolished fines, recognizing that they lead to patrons avoiding the library. “The truth is,” Mickunas explains, “for decades, fines have been an obstacle for people, especially for the families who we most want to be supporting.” He encourages community members to attend library board meetings on the third Monday of every month and share their opinions.
Mickunas’s enthusiasm, educational experience, and commitment to community engagement promise to make him an exceptional library director. He is always happy to chat with community members, so look him up at the library.