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Published: 7/24/2009

Granholm cost-cutting move threatens to dismantle the Library of Michigan

BY FLORENCE DETHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Librarians and library advocates across the state of Michigan are mobilizing to defend the Library of Michigan, which could be dismantled and its collections scattered in a budget-cutting move.

An executive order from Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm last week transferred control of the Library of Michigan in Lansing to the Department of Education and recommended the department implement cost-cutting measures that library advocates believe may leave state residents without an important resource.

While previously the state library had operated under the Department of History, Arts, and Libraries, and in that capacity been able to allocate its budget as it saw fit, the order abolished that department at a savings to the state of $2 million.

The new structure gives the state Department of Education final approval over the Library of Michigan's budget, and library advocates say that increases the likelihood of dramatic cost cuts and possibly a dismantlement and relocation of the library's extensive collections.

"The proposal to take the Library of Michigan and maybe not even have a library building anymore would be a tremendous loss to the community," said James Seidl, director of the Woodlands Library Cooperative, a group of 49 libraries in southern Michigan.

He spoke in reference to a proposal, also made last week, to move the Library of Michigan from its current quarters to make room for the establishment of a Michigan Center for Innovation and Reinvention, an as-yet unformed entity that the governor hopes will draw visitors to the state and create opportunities for residents.

But opponents of the proposal say making such a change would be a logistical nightmare.

"Distributing or removing these collections destroys 180 years of collecting, cataloging, and preserving materials," Mr. Seidl said.

At present, the Library of Michigan houses 5.6 million items in about 27 miles of shelving.

As such, dismantling its collections would be only the first in a series of hurdles that administrators would face - there is also the matter of preserving the collections and re-cataloging them once they are moved to another location.

But the executive order did not just transfer control over the library.

It also charged the superintendent of public instruction at the Department of Education with making cost cuts such as stopping the circulation of certain library collections; suspending or eliminating the Library of Michigan's participation in MeLCat, the state's eLibrary catalogue and resource-sharing system used by public libraries and residents across the state, and eliminating or transferring to other suitable institutions the non-Michigan Genealogy collection. That is a collection that draws researchers from across the country.

According to the order, the cuts should be made "unless the superintendent determines it to be impracticable."

And so far, at least one group has stepped forward with plans to demonstrate against the proposed cuts.

After assembling on the lawn of the State Capitol on Aug. 5, the Michigan Genealogical Council is planning to march to the library to join "Hands Around the Library."

The event is in protest of the proposed fracturing of the Library of Michigan genealogy collection, much of which the council's members have donated to the state over the years.

And while not planning a protest, the Michigan Library Association is urging Governor Granholm and the legislature to maintain the library system's level of services, to keep state aid to Michigan's public libraries at $10 million in 2009, and to retain the position of the state librarian.

Mr. Seidl said the Woodlands Library Cooperative, fearing the governor's order indicates imminent cuts in state aid, plans to place a card in every state-circulated book and on every public-service computer that asks patrons to contact their local representative and senator to support a continuation of state aid.

The aid is important, Mr. Seidl said, because of the federal match dollars it allows the library system to draw down.

Historically the state librarian has used those federal funds to pay for the state's subscription to more than 200 online databases, a subscription that allows Michigan residents to access the resources anywhere in the world provided they have a valid Michigan driver's license or library card.

If state aid drops much below its current level of $9.6 million, he said, the federal match dollars may decline to such a level that the state pulls funding for the databases.

But while the ax may be poised, for now it's business as usual at the Library of Michigan.

"We haven't been shut down by any means, thank goodness," said State Librarian Nancy Robertson, who was appointed to the position in November, 2005.

"We're still circulating our collections and our staff is serving patrons and our library system. None of the services we provide have come to a screeching halt," she said.

She said she is looking forward to having a productive relationship with the superintendent of public instruction, to whom she will be reporting at the Department of Education.

That relationship will be especially important, she said, because it is likely that hard decisions will have to be made when the library receives its budget.

She explained that the library traditionally has made paying for the e-library system its top priority when allocating the federal funds it received.

"My expectation is to continue to support the Michigan e-library. Our intent would be not to have any service change except for the positive," Ms. Robertson said, but added, "that's given with the caveat that the budget hasn't been finalized."

As part of the executive order, the position of state librarian has been abolished as a governor's appointment and instead has been made a civil-service position.

Asked about whether the state would likely cut funding for the library system below the $10 million mark, a spokesman for the governor said it would be impossible to say what the funding level for the program would be.

Unless Michigan's House and Senate reject it, the executive order will go into effect Oct. 1.

Contact Florence Dethy at:

fdethy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6064.



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