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From the CIA to Flagler

Sep 29, 2014

Flagler College’s Director of Library Services Michael Gallen is everything you’d expect a librarian to be: smart, quiet and unassuming. But as the old saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover … because that book could have very well been in the CIA.

That’s right.

Gallen, who recently announced his retirement from Flagler College, spent 27 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, working his way up from reference librarian to publication acquisitions, procuring books all over the world, to eventually becoming manager of information services.

“I worked basically as a support system to these analysts who crunched the data,” explained Gallen. “You hear it all the time, but there were times where finding a certain piece of information really was a matter of life and death.”

But Gallen didn’t plan to work for the nation’s most secretive organization.

After graduating from Drexel University in 1968 with an M.S. in library and information sciences, Gallen took a job in a high school library.

And while he loved working with kids, a love that would one day bring him back to education, he would soon find himself presented with an even greater opportunity.

“The CIA had been interviewing people at Villanova University. I had studied language so they were interested,” said Gallen, who has done formal studies of the German, French, Russian and Norwegian languages. “Twenty-seven pages and nine months of security clearances later, I was hired.”

While Gallen can’t speak much of his time with the agency, he didn’t mind spilling a bit about a former coworker: Aldrich Ames.

Ames was responsible for exposing dozens of undercover CIA agent names to the Soviet Union and is considered the worst mole ever to burrow into the CIA. He also worked in Gallen’s office.

“He was a strange guy, but he was very good at his job,” Gallen said. “When I first heard he was arrested, I thought it was by the Russians, not the other way around. I was pretty surprised.”

Over his CIA career, Gallen earned five Exceptional Performance Awards, a Recognition Award for Exceptional Performance during the Persian Gulf Crisis and finally, in 1996, received a Career Intelligence Medal.

After retiring from the CIA, Gallen decided he wanted to return to education. He had a vacation home in St Augustine and decided he would give Flagler a shot.

The Proctor Library had only been open a few months when Gallen was hired as a reference librarian in 1996. Four years later, he took over as director and would oversee the library’s movement into the 21st century.

“So much has changed from when I’ve started,” Gallen said. “For instance, the Internet. When I started we had this small lab that didn’t even work.”

And while you might think that overseeing a college library would have to be way less stressful than working for the CIA, Gallen doesn’t see much difference.

“Sure students’ lives may not be at risk, but that piece of information that they need is just as important to them to finish a paper or for their career,” Gallen said. “I think the biggest difference is that in the CIA, if an analyst needed help, you did it for them. Here, we like to be able to teach the students how to help themselves to find the info they need.”

Gallen says that after 18 years, he is looking forward to traveling and spending time with his oldest granddaughter, who is about to be a teenager. But he doesn’t intend to lose touch with his family here at Flagler.

“The Flagler community has become a big part of our lives,” Gallen said of his family. “We go to all the sporting events, plays, as much as we can. So that’s what I’ll miss, but at the same time, I don’t plan on missing it. I will still be here for as much as I can.”

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