Landing in Lansing: Heidi Gustad

Heidi Gustad never really thought she would be a librarian.

“I grew up in Fargo, [North Dakota],” she says. “What brought me to Michigan was Michigan State University. I was playing the oboe professionally . .  and I came here because I got a music and honors scholarship.”

After a bout with tendonitis, Gustad re-evaluated the path that her studies were taking.

“I realized that being a professional musician wasn’t the most sustainable career, so I switched to telecommunications,” she says.

“I was able to keep all of my scholarship money and I liked MSU’s campus. I had made a lot of friends, and I like being in a totally new environment.”

From Fargo to Lansing

During her time at MSU, Gustad, now 23, spent her free time working as the programming director for the East Lansing Film Festival, independent films having long been an interest of hers.

In 2008, after spending only three years as an undergraduate, Gustad graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media.

“My plan was to take one year off before starting grad school, and I assumed that I was going to walk into a full-time job somewhere.”

Instead, Heidi’s minimal experience and a rough economy combined to leave her searching for a job. She thought about returning to Fargo—a growing city with a surplus of available jobs for which Gustad was qualified.

However, employment wasn’t the only thing on her mind.

“I had a boyfriend at the time,” she says. “We ended up moving in together after I graduated. I liked him a lot, and that was enough of a reason for me to stay in Lansing instead of going back to Fargo.”

After a pause: “We’re getting married in March,” she adds. “So that worked out.”

Learning, Serving, Landing a Job

As happens with so many other job-seekers, previous experience that may have seemed insignificant at the time came back to lend a hand in finally landing work.

“I went in for an unpaid internship interview at WKAR and they found out that I had a background in social media from my experience at the film festival,” Gustad says. “They ended up actually hiring me as a paid part-time staff member so I could help them launch their Facebook and YouTube presence.”

With a work schedule that was less rigorous than she originally thought, Gustad took the opportunity to jump into her graduate program full-throttle. She started library school at Wayne State University in the summer of 2009 with the intention of keeping her options open for future employment.

Shortly after beginning graduate school, Gustad noticed a job opening at the Capital Area District Library (CADL) that brought together two of her strongest areas of interest—public service and libraries.

She applied for the social media-related position and was hired as a part-time assistant in the computer lab in June 2009.

“It was a job where I got to do some social media stuff, but I also got to teach computer classes and work with patrons,” she says.

“Understanding what it feels like to be unemployed, that was one of the things that I really liked about that job. I could help a lot of adult patrons who come in everyday to use the computers and try to find work. I realized, through that first job at CADL, that that’s what I liked—I really liked the public service part of it.”

Previous volunteer experiences also nudged Gustad along her path to public service.

“I was a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and that was really a good experience. It was very validating after not being able to find a job, to have my Little Sister still thinking that I was cool.”

Gustad spent about four months working part-time at CADL until another employee resigned from what Gustad refers to as her “dream job.”

“Last fall in October, a woman resigned from the social media position at the library and I decided to apply,” she says. “I was in grad school, but I figured that I could cut back on my classes if I was hired for my dream job.”

She was, in fact, hired. She became the district-wide Online Content/Public Relations Coordinator for the Downtown Lansing location of CADL in November 2009.

Loving Lansing – Cultural Melting Pot

Gustad and her fiancée, Ed Corcoran, an MSU graduate student from Arkansas, have put down roots in Lansing and started to make the most of their new environment.

Things that seem commonplace to many Lansing residents are precisely the things that Gustad appreciates the most about the area.

“Fargo is one the whitest cities in the country. It’s so homogeneous,” she says. “It’s all Scandinavians and Germans, and that’s one thing that I really like about Lansing — the diversity.

"Not just the racial diversity," she adds. "There’s such a variety of things to do. There are so many cultural pockets, and they’re so far ahead of Fargo in that aspect.”

The cultural pockets were glaringly obvious when her parents came to visit.

“We went and got hummus,” she says. “My dad thought it was ranch dip that tasted weird. He grew up on a hog farm, and people just don’t eat hummus in North Dakota.”

“Even with something as basic as pizza—there’s Geno’s, Cottage Inn, Pizza Pi. And that’s just pizza,” she says.

Lansing Favorites

Some of her favorite haunts around town include the Traveler’s Club, Maru Sushi and two businesses that have a very special place in her heart—the Soup Spoon Café and Sweetie-Licious Bakery Cafe. Both will provide food at Gustad’s wedding, planned for March.

“What I really love about Lansing is how down-to-earth everyone is,” Gustad says. “There’s always someone under 30 whose face is in the paper; there’s so much support for the LGBT community; there’s always something cool going on.”

If Gustad could point to one area in which Lansing lags behind Fargo, her old undergraduate passion once again rears its head.

“Lansing doesn’t have an independent movie theater, and there’s a beautiful old theater in downtown Fargo. It’s a moneymaker for the city, and it’s really cleaned up downtown Fargo and made it a destination for lots of people.”

She is, however, geeked about the Capital City Film Festival happening in Downtown Lansing next April.

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Gabrielle Johnson is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains. 

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Heidi Gustad at the Capital Area District Library, and with her fiancee, Ed Corcoran, at Sweetie-Licious Bakery Cafe.

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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