Rachel Arndt’s formal title is "Public Services Area Manager of the Central Library" which means she’s basically in charge of the massive, opulent block-long building that’s brimming with books and all of the people who enter it.
In other words, she's a librarian boss lady – and one of the few women in the country with her experience level that's holding down a position like this.
Arndt, who has worked for the Milwaukee Public Library system for seven years, began this top-level position about a year ago. Although most librarians are women, more men have management positions in libraries and most of the women who hold these positions have worked in the system for a decade or longer.
Milwaukee's city librarian is also a woman. Paula Kiely has held the position since 2006, when she replaced Kate Huston.
But Arndt, with her passion for archives, research and people is clearly a natural fit for the job.
"I handle ‘the human side’ of the library," says Arndt. "Public libraries are information spaces, but we are also community spaces. Once the doors open everybody and anybody is welcome to walk in and stay as long as they’d like."
Thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds visit the Central Library every day, including kids, teens, college students, families, lawyers, judges, job searchers, members of the homeless population, immigrants and more.
Prior to her current role, Arndt served as the manager of the longstanding "Ready Reference" service that allows people to ask a librarian a question via phone, chat or email. Despite the popularity and accessibility of Google, Ready Reference fields 200 questions a day – about 100,000 calls annually – that range vastly in topic.
"You can ask us anything that is answerable. You can’t ask us something subjective, like ‘Is a Whopper better than a Big Mac?’ because we can’t answer that. Then again, maybe we could. We could probably find survey results that declare one over the other," says Arndt. "The Internet can do a lot of magical things, but there’s nothing like a trained information professional to take you straight to the source."
Arndt grew up in Bay View and, after moving out of Milwaukee for a few years, not only returned to the neighborhood of her youth, but she and her husband eventually bought her childhood home. The couple still lives there today with their two children.
"It’s both awesome and weird living in the house you grew up in," says Arndt.
As a kid, Arndt was an avid reader, a trait that foreshadowed her future career as an adult.
"I started reading at an early age. I was that kid who stayed up late – under the covers with a flashlight – reading a book and pretending to be asleep if my parents checked on me," says Arndt.
Today, as a busy wife, mom and employee, Arndt still makes time for reading, particularly history and memoirs. "But I have a rule, if I start a book and it doesn't grab me I move on to another," she says. "Life is too short."
Arndt says people in her life are sometimes surprised by how few books she keeps in her home.
"I only hold onto books that are sentimental to me in some way or that I know I will read again," she says, citing her neighborhood Little Free Library as the recipient of many of her finished books. If she particularly likes a book Arndt will write a little note of endorsement from "your friendly neighborhood librarian" before filing it in the little library.
Arndt received an undergraduate degree in English and her Masters of Library and Information Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Although passionate about history and research, Arndt realized she also really enjoys interacting with people.
"At first I thought I would be working between stacks of archives, but I tend to be an extroverted person. I have a background in playing and coaching sports and I really enjoy being a part of a team," says Arndt.
Being an extrovert is only one of the myriad ways Arndt – and her staff – breaks librarian stereotypes, defying the notion that librarians have to be either sexy intellectuals or stern spinsters.
"My colleagues – male, female, non-binary – are all such stereotype breakers. We have extroverted librarians and introverted librarians, tattooed librarians, messy librarians, sports librarians … I’m a librarian without cats," says Arndt. "Librarians are generally very non-judgmental."
And most modern libraries have evolved over the years, especially when it comes to maintaining silence.
"Libraries are not the ‘Ssshhh factories’ they once were," says Arndt. "It’s OK to talk on the phone, even interview for a job over Skype, at the library. There are parts of the library that are very quiet, but other parts that are very alive."
Arndt has a strong sense of humor and a warm, easy laugh, but she’s also extremely serious about her work and why it's important to her.
"Being a librarian, you get to flex your intelligence all the time. It’s a creative and curious job where being smart is very important," says Arndt. "And it's a job that uplifts a community."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.