Former Governors James Blanchard and Governor Engler will be in Michigan this week for two joint appearances. Blanchard and Engler were often at odds with each other, but I can almost guarantee that both of them would rail at the ideas that the current Governor has for the Library of Michigan.
On February 10, a letter from the Department of Education regarding the Governorâ€™s Executive Order and Executive Directives reaffirmed the intention to cut $1.1 million from the budget and severely trim and curtail current activities and programs of the State Library. Among other things, Granholmâ€™s plans call for stripping away from the Library the genealogy collections, the federal documents collection, and material in the general main, Dewey and Reference Collections, trimming back the Michigan book collection and eliminating 13 positions-nearly one-quarter of the staff.
The Library also will no longer be circulating books or participating in a state-wide loan program. Ultimately, the downsized Library would end up being housed in the top two floors of the building they now occupy. This is the literary equivalent of burning the Library at Alexandria.
Early on in discussions, there was talk â€“serious talk- from the Executive Office about turning a portion of the Library into a technology center and high school. There are some who still think that a technology-science center is still in the mix and would be located on the bottom two floors.
The breakup of the stateâ€™s premier genealogy collection is once again raising the greatest ire even though the Order now calls for the collection to remain in one location and not split up. The Order makes it is clear that the collection not be administered by the Library of Michigan even if remains where it is. The question is not only who would take it and where would it be housed, but most importantly how would an organization pay for the maintenance of such a collection? Iâ€™ve talked with individuals close to the situation who have said there arenâ€™t a lot of takers. Bake sales donâ€™t seem to be the answer.
How do you pay for downsizing ?
Other questions to be answered include how do you pay for the removal and relocation of records and books? As a clever aphorist once said â€œthe devil is in the detailsâ€. And the details are not forthcoming. In fact, a decidedly non-librarian driven task force, Michigan Center of Innovation and Reinvention, that the Granholm administration pulled together to oversee the transformation has yet to meet.
Local libraries breathed a sigh of relief when the interlibrary loan program MEL-Cat was saved and to be fair, other observers say the Governor is following a nation-wide trend of decentralization and the maximization of local libraries. Or perhaps she could be caught-up in the techno frenzy caused by the Google Project which has been digitizing books at break-neck speed for availability on the web.
Just recently, Jason Epstein writing on publishing in the New York Review of Books said: “Digital content is fragile. The secure retention, therefore, of physical books safe from electronic meddlers, predators, and the hazards of electronic storage is essential…. The huge, worldwide market for digital content, however, is not a fantasy. It will be very large, very diverse, and very surprising: its cultural impact cannot be imagined. E-books will be a significant factor in this uncertain future, but actual books printed and bound will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.
My thoughts exactly. I love many of the aspects of the Google project, but I donâ€™t want Google to be my exclusive library. If Library of Michigan collections are broken up and dispersed we lose some of that â€œcollective wisdomâ€ Epstein was talking about. The Library has until October 1, 2011 to make the changes.
Local librarians in the Lansing area also believe that the move does not send the right message to communities across Michigan. One said â€œIt seems to say libraries are not importantâ€. Hopefully, it wonâ€™t say that to the areaâ€™s residents who will be asked to vote for a millage renewal this year for the Capital Area District Library.