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A Home to Call Our Own: Michigan State Library, 1961 to 1980

Following Loleta Fyan's surprising ouster in March of 1961, Governor John B. Swainson appointed Genevieve M. Casey (1962-1967) to the top librarian position in the state. It had been 10 years since a fire destroyed the State Library's quarters in the Cass Building, and still the library's collections resided in multiple buildings. Two of Governor Swainson's budget recommendations that year were for the construction of two buildings - one that would house the Law Library Division in a new Supreme Court building and the other, a new facility for the State Library. However, yearly requests for a new building that could house all the library's holdings would not be seriously addressed by the Michigan Legislature for years to come.

In 1963, a state reorganization moved administration of the State Library from the State Board for Libraries (which retained an advisory role) to the Department of Education. Also in 1963, the Dudley Building, formerly the John Deer Farm Implement Company, was remodeled as the new headquarters for the State Library. In just four month's time, library staff moved over one million volumes into 60,628 feet of floor space.

The first floor of this new location was readied to receive materials of the Library for the Blind that previously had been housed in Saginaw. Staff members were able to employ the previous tenant's 225 feet of conveyor belt to facilitate transporting materials to the loading dock for mailing. Public Act 552 of 1960 had enabled the physically handicapped to utilize library materials designed for the blind. This generous piece of legislation increased circulation from 635 items in 1960 to 280,347 in 1966/67. The demand for these materials nearly tripled the number of staff from three to 11, and with the assistance of 70 volunteers, over 51,000 recordings were made for distribution.

In conjunction with Western Michigan Library School, the State Library sponsored a professional trainee program allowing any library school student enrolled in a minimum of eight hours per semester at an accredited school to work at the State Library - with the caveat that they would continue to work at the library for two years after graduation.

A study conducted by Nelson Associates, a New York management consultant firm, investigated reference and research resources in Michigan's academic libraries. Their findings showed that though the state of Michigan had a world-famous collection of resources, it still did not meet the information needs of its residents. As library allocations amounted to only five cents per capita, the study recommended Michigan libraries investigate more ways to provide services cooperatively. In 1965, the State Library began offering centralized cataloging to 125 public and school libraries and distributed over 10 million cards. A new service in 1967 offered a daily "hotline" phone call to fourteen community college libraries. By being the conduit through which college students could obtain specialized materials, the State Library helped college libraries better manage their budgets by supplying materials readily available in another library.

The battle between public library systems over $2.5 million in penal fines was resolved when the Michigan constitution was rewritten in 1963. An additional $1.5 million allocation each year enabled small and large public libraries to offer enhanced services. Though still not complying with the American Library Association's recommended fair share, grants to Michigan libraries increased to between 30 and 60 cents per capita.

Genevieve Casey resigned in late 1967 to join the faculty at Wayne State University in the Department of Library Science and in the Center for Urban Studies. An article in Library Journal1 noted that apparent conflicts with the Department of Education caused Casey and five other employees to resign in a six-month period. The turmoil caused by these rapid departures was tempered by the appointment of Francis (Frank) X. Scannell as State Librarian. Scannell had left the State Library in 1965 to work as head of reference services for Michigan State University and was well known and liked by State Library employees.

House Bill 4920 was passed in 1968, providing for coordination of local library operations and strengthening the resources of the State Library to minimize competition with regional libraries. Critics of this bill suggested the State Library just close its doors to walk-in patrons. To address that proposal, House Bill 4920 included wording that prevented the State Library from purchasing general materials and kept the doors open to any visitor.

The 1970s saw more cooperative efforts between public and school libraries. In 1972, the State Library instituted a book exchange program that donated over 20,000 books per year to libraries across the state. Just one year later, representatives from the State Library met with Michigan academic and public library system directors to form the Michigan Library Consortium (MLC).

The search for an adequately designed facility still proved elusive through most of the decade. President Nixon's fund impoundment policies caused Frank Scannell to remark, "from the warehouse, to the warehouse, to the poorhouse."2

The State Library found a staunch friend in Senator William Faust. Senator Faust strongly supported the State Library's basic need for a properly designed, permanent facility in which to reside. His comments, "It's a good operation. But the facilities they have to work with are a disgrace to the state"3 were addressed in the early 1980s. Faust, as Senate majority leader, recommended in the legislative priorities for 1980 that the State Library transfer from the Department of Education to the Michigan Legislature. If the transfer were approved, the Legislature would strive to reverse the downward spiral in library services and address the deteriorating conditions in the law library and main library buildings.

1 Library Journal, 2/15/68, p. 704

by Carol Fink, Assistant Rare Book Librarian, Library of Michigan

Updated 11/18/2003