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The Many Homes of the Library of Michigan

Michigan's State Library has experienced a colorful history, with many moves and reorganizations.

Territorial Courthouse
Library of Michigan, First Library, Territorial Courthouse

In 1828, an act was passed to create an official Territorial Council Library, housed with other government offices in the Territorial Courthouse on Griswold Street in Detroit, where they remained until 1847.

In 1847, the State Library (so named when Michigan became a state in 1837) moved to a single room in Lansing's first Capitol building, a modest two-story frame structure located on the block bounded by Washington and Capitol Avenues and Allegan and Washtenaw Streets. In 1858, Michigan's Supreme Court Justices were authorized to remove from the library any materials that they desired to keep in a designated room near their offices.

By 1860, the State Library collection numbered 13,676 titles, and space in the old Capitol building was inadequate. The library was temporarily moved to a new state office building on the corner of South Washington and Allegan in 1871. Soon the book purchase appropriation was increased, and the library also began to accept gift histories from the public. By 1874, the collection had grown to 46,000 volumes. When the library moved to the first and third floors of the new (current) Capitol building in 1879, the assigned space was already inadequate for its holdings. This space problem necessitated transfer of all realia from the library to the Capitol Museum Room.

In 1893, the State Library opened for use by the general public. Throughout the next decade, holdings grew rapidly, particularly after the 1895 designation of the State Library as a federal documents depository. During this era, the library began to loan books to Michigan public libraries, and State Library traveling collections visited rural locations throughout the state. In 1907, a legislative reference department was established, and by 1910 the collection had ballooned to 63,000 volumes.

State Office Building
Library of Michigan, Cass Building

Citing the danger of fire in the Capitol, a report demanding safer housing for the State Library was issued by the Michigan Library Association in 1916. In 1922 the Library was moved to the main floor of the new (Lewis Cass) State Office Building at the corner of South Walnut and Kalamazoo Streets. Law and legislative reference services remained in the Capitol, the latter having been transferred to control of the Legislature. In 1924, Library extension services began for public and school libraries, and collections expanded accordingly.

In February of 1951, a devastating fire destroyed the upper floors of the State Office Building, and many of the library's holdings suffered water damage. Over 30,000 books were frozen and moved to the field house of Lansing's Boys Vocational School for long, slow drying. Temporary library offices were set up in the field house and a separate information center was maintained at the Capitol building.

Shiawassee Building
Library of Michigan, Shiawassee Building

In June of 1951, the State Library reference collections and its extension staff were moved to a storefront building on Shiawassee Street, while the Public Library Development Division moved to an office building on Grand Avenue. In 1954, a reference branch office was opened in the reconstructed Cass Building, and in 1955 a full service Upper Peninsula Branch opened in Escanaba. The Saginaw based Regional Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was officially transferred to State Library administration in 1959, although its collections were not moved. In 1961, the library set up a temporary collection of 2,000 volumes in the basement of the Lansing Civic Center for use by Michigan Constitutional Convention delegates. Reference outlets in both the Capitol and Cass buildings continued for several more years.

Grand Avenue Building
Library of Michigan, Grand Avenue Building

In 1963, the Dudley Building on Michigan Avenue was leased for use by the Library. This former farm equipment warehouse was large enough to accommodate nearly all of the materials and staff from Shiawassee Street and Grand Avenue, as well as the SBPH collections from Saginaw. The Grand Avenue building was maintained for off-site storage of infrequently used law and main library materials. Law Library staff and collections remained at the Capitol until 1969, when they moved into the G. Mennen Williams state office building on Ottawa Street, which also housed the Michigan Supreme Court and the Office of the Attorney General. The State Library gained national recognition in 1964, when it was designated as a Regional Federal Document Depository, and by 1965 library holdings exceeded one million.

MLHC Library of Michigan Atrium
Library of Michigan, Michigan Library and Historical Center, Atrium

Nearly all collections and functions of the library moved into the Michigan Library and Historical Center in late 1988. This beautiful new building, the first pre-designated home for the library, was designed to house the Library of Michigan and the Michigan History Center, including the Michigan History Museum and the State Archives. Following closure of the Upper Peninsula Branch in 1995, the Law Library remained the only separately housed service of the Library of Michigan.

In 2001, the Library of Michigan joined the Michigan History Center, the Michigan Film Office, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to form the new Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL). All of HAL's agencies now have offices in the Michigan Library and Historical Center, and the Library continues to occupy much of the west half of the building. We look forward to completion of our Rare Book Reading Room in the fall of 2003 and to the continuing opportunity to serve the people of Michigan.

State Library on the Move

From the time of the first Michigan Territorial Council Library to the Library of Michigan, our State Library has had many homes.

1828-1847 - Territorial Courthouse (Griswold St., Detroit)
1847-1871 - Original Capitol Building (Capitol Block, Lansing)
1871-1879 - State Office Building (corner S. Washington and Allegan St., Lansing)
1879-1921 - New [current] Capitol Building (Capitol Ave., Lansing)
1921-1951 - [Lewis Cass] State Office Building (S. Walnut St., Lansing)
1951-1962 - 125 E. Shiawassee St. and 220 S. Grand Ave., Lansing
1962-1988 - Dudley Building (735 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing)
1988-Present - Michigan Library and Historical Center (702 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing)

by Linda Neely, Reference/ILL Librarian, Library of Michigan

Updated 05/01/2003