Categories: Our People

The bookman behind the cover

Adult services library assistant Geoff Manderscheid has become an important figure in teen programming with such offerings as the Teen Poetry Slam. For that effort among others

When Geoff Manderscheid participated in an Edmonton Journal photo shoot two years ago, he might have inadvertently caused himself a bit of undue prejudice. The feature on ‘Stylin’ Librarians’ showcased the then 30-year-old man in his self-described “Flâneur” attire, posing somewhat stiltedly against a stair rail.

First of all, he said that he was doing it to give the St. Albert Public Library a bit more positive publicity. Secondly, that affectation in his posture wasn’t something he put on to impress the photographer and the viewing public.

He was just recovering from knee surgery.

“We had a lot of laughs about that one amongst my friends because it’s me centre stage. It was comical,” he remembered. “We had all of these poses of me leaning on things, looking into the lens, and being the model. My crutches were off to the side.”

While the piece did give him a chance to chat up second-hand or discount clothing racks – he spoke of his wardrobe frugality with an Austin Phelps quote: “Wear the old coat and buy the new book” – he was left somewhat dismayed by the larger social implications. Google me, he says, and you’ll find this fashion shoot as the first result.

“I would rather be known for things I can be more proud of like the work I do, the relationships I have with people as opposed to this guy who knows how to co-ordinate clothes.”

It’s true: Geoff Manderscheid isn’t really about flash and panache. Fashion doesn’t even enter the conversation. What he’s really excited about is encouraging arts and literature, especially in youths. In certain circles of the city, he’s known as the slam poetry guy. If his last name wasn’t big enough, he’s working hard to make his name even bigger with all of the great work that he’s doing.

It all started when he was tasked with developing new programs at the library. He started asking around the high schools to see what they wanted but couldn’t do themselves. Getting teens into a library is a tall order but he figured out a way.

That’s when he took charge of the Offbeat Book Club and kickstarted the yarn bombing club, a teen movie night, and those spoken word performance events that have become very popular on the scene. He’s simply following his own passions.

“It’s not a stretch. This is an art installation. This is performance art. This totally aligns with what I love,” he said.

He’s now the co-ordinator, facilitator and emcee of numerous live poetry readings and readings including the annual Teen Poetry Slam, a show that has a raucous following and has already produced some unique and powerful artistic voices under 20 in this city.

There’s a good reason why he was nominated for the Leadership Award at this year’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts ceremony. While he didn’t take home the trophy, we can be sure that he’s still very much appreciated.

The turn of the page

It’s funny how some thinks work out. A decade ago, Manderscheid was toiling away as a restaurant server in downtown Edmonton, spending his lunches in the library. “Is this it?” he would ask himself while looking in the mirror.

Suddenly, he was inspired to make a massive change in his life, getting his two-year Information Management and Library Technician papers out of MacEwan University. He soon found himself in our little bibliothÈque. He was admittedly introverted but a little prodding from his supervisors got him teaching computer classes and doing presentations.

They also got him thinking about the future.

“And I thought it was going to be me at a desk, locked away, cataloguing books…” he recalled.

Manderscheid talked about his own early years, being more into video games and sports, especially hockey.

“Having things like Super Nintendo in the house… and really being into sports probably kept me out of libraries as a youth. I spent so much time playing basement hockey!” he added, noting that he also played soccer but stopped in high school when this “jadedness… ‘Geoff wants to be different…’ kicked in.”

That’s when the art- and book-loving Geoff appeared.

“I did arts to the max in high school. I had some kind of self-deception that maybe I would end up as an art teacher. I think a lot of people are surprised: ‘You’re a librarian? Really?'”

Yes. He’s a librarian who is still well into sports, although he sticks more to cycling, tennis and swing dancing these days. And yes, he knows how to dress well. Don’t judge the bookman by his cover. He’s just as much a renegade as the teens he offers a stage to.

“I’ve always had this appreciation for arts and I don’t feel like a total tool for still being interested in sports. It’s just: you’re you, man.”

Q&A with Geoff Manderscheid

What’s your favourite book?
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

What’s your favourite movie?
Henry & June

What’s your favourite album?
Introspective by Pet Shop Boys

When you were still a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

What do you want to see on your tombstone?
“Winona Forever.”

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Steady librarianship.

If you could change anything, what would it be?

Rolling Stones or Beatles? Or…?
I’ve been known to go both ways.

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.