February 23, 2014

Mike Matley, Super Custodian

A public library is the heart of most communities. People who work in public libraries typically share a pride of purpose that thrives on the public library’s cultural and educational mission. But public libraries and the staff’s commitment can be taken for granted and gravely undervalued, especially when budgets are tight.

This is a story about Mike Matley who has served the Westborough MA community as the Library Custodian for almost 30 years

He has an extraordinary mastery of the library’s complex systems and operational details and a sense of professionalism and duty that goes well beyond the job description of “custodian.” His ability and willingness to put his heart and soul into his work has protected and enriched the quality of the old library building and the lives of its staff and patrons.

So imagine Mike’s surprise when he found out that Westborough wanted to save money by cutting his position (and two other town custodians) and to outsource the job to a cleaning service.

When his job was threatened, his friends and colleagues at the library urged him to fight. With only 24 hours to prepare for a meeting, he wrote a letter to describe the many ways the staff and building benefit from his services and extensive knowledge of the quirks and idiosyncrasies of both.

To read Mike’s complete letter, news stories, and letters of support from Friends of the Library and the Library Trustees go to: Mike Matley, 2014 Special Hero, Westborough MA (http://tinyurl.com/MMatley)
Taking Care

His letter to the Library Trustees lists the many big and little responsibilities of his job, the many tasks and decisions that the staff count on him to take care of, day in and day out.

The list include taking care of computer and audiovisual equipment, of humidifying, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment, of electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems and related contractors and service providers, and supporting a wide variety of programs, events and activities as well as inventorying, assembling, moving, supplying, cleaning, polishing, recycling, and much much more. He does preventative maintenance and routine duties and even responds to off-shift emergencies.

The staff and Trustees of the Library rallied to support Mike at meetings and in the local press.

Lessons Learned

Mike’s is a special kind of hero — a professional, caring, skilled, conscientious and dedicated public employee with high standards. His letter reveals a value so great that a simple ‘return on investment’ cannot be calculated.

Just as the false economies and short-sighted decisions that let to the tragedy of the 1937 New London Texas School Explosion, Mike’s story is a modern day reminder of how cost-cutting can put the essential elements of a community’s culture and quality of life and security at risk.    

Mike Matley

Mike Matley started to work in hotels at age 14.  He wanted to go into hotel management but one of his bosses discouraged him from pursuing that career.  When he graduated from high school in 1970, he wanted to go to Cornell but was deterred by the campus turmoil at that time.

He began working as a school custodian in several districts and also started a house cleaning business. His clients were some of the school employees who admired the quality of his work and his conscientiousness.

In January 1989, Mike answered an ad for a Custodian at the Westborough Public Library. He thought he would try it for only a year but dsiscovered he loved it.  And he has remained in the position ever since, working five and six days per week from 1:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Mike is extraordinary, essential, irreplaceable

Karen Fay, Chair of the Library Trustees, comments, “There isn’t any employee who cares more about the building and staff than Mike. When it snowed overnight he would show up at 7 am to clear the snow.”

“This job is his life,” says Fay. “He knows everything about this ancient building. Mike is extraordinary, essential, irreplaceable. His job description journal explains why he can’t be replaced and why he is so beloved by everyone. It shows what he does over and above his job description for the good of the library.

Fay adds, “The Trustees did a survey of 17 libraries using outside contractors and learned that all but one were going back to in-house custodians.”

Mike's presence is a constant. He seems to always be there for the staff, patrons and children. For example, a few years ago, Mike brought his twenty bonsai trees to the children’s room and enjoyed it when kids asked him about the trees.  

Surprisingly, Mike doesn’t use a computerized work order system. He keeps track of everything he needs to do in his head.

The Jewel of the Town

Maurice Weinrobe of Newton has employed Mike for 20 years as a house cleaner. Weinrobe says, “I have gotten to know him, trust him and respect him. It is a professional relationship and he has also become a friend. I look forward to him being here. He does a great job, often doing things we wouldn’t have expected. In twenty years, I don’t remember him ever missing a day.”

“Mike would talk about the library as the jewel of the town.” adds Weinrobe. “He often was doing things at the library over and beyond the requirements of the job. I wonder, how often do you find someone like Mike who is so devoted to an institution?”

Today, Mike Matley is still the custodian of the Westborough Public Library and has an action figure, “Super Custodian,” pinned on his door.

To read Mike’s complete letter, news stories, and letters of support from Friends of the Library and the Library Trustees go to: Mike Matley, 2014 Special Hero, Westborough MA (http://tinyurl.com/MMatley)