A Day in the Life of a Librarian

Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake follows different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.​

Bernadette Bartlett of the Library of Michigan, a division of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), has worked at a library since she was 16 years old.

"In high school, I was a student assistant and, when I went to college, I worked in either the university's library or the public library in town," said Bartlett, Michigan Documents Librarian. "I was interested in everything and anything and working in a library gives me an opportunity to satisfy my curious nature. I can do research in Michigan law one day and, the next, I could be researching the life of a historic person. I have always been interested in history, and I love to hunt for information, so this has been a good fit for me."

Bartlett started working for the Library of Michigan in November 1988, only months after it moved to its current location on Kalamazoo Street. The building was built specifically to be a museum and library complex for the State of Michigan.

The library was officially established in1828 and housed at the Territorial Courthouse in Detroit, before moving to Lansing in 1847. When the current Capitol building opened in 1879, the library occupied three floors, but, due to space concerns, it moved into various state office buildings after 1923 (including a renovated warehouse on Michigan Avenue) before moving to its current home.

"We're one of the oldest state government entities that is still operating with its original function and purpose," said Bartlett.

The three missions of the library are to serve the information needs of state government, collect and provide long-term access to published Michigan state government information, and provide services to libraries across the state.

For Bartlett, she specializes in state government information, and often works on the reference desk in the law library on the third floor. Most of the questions she handles are from people needing information on Michigan laws or a state government department researching the history of their own legislation, rules, and regulations.

Bartlett and other librarians on staff are also tasked with helping select books and materials for the library's collections based on collection development policies and available funding.

"Many people don't know that a librarian's job isn't just about helping people who have questions and want to borrow books. It's also about building and maintaining the collections, planning programs and exhibits and promoting the library's services to multiple audiences. That's a significant part of a librarian's day," said Bartlett, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Michigan State University and a master's in library and Information Science at Wayne State University.

Staff at the Library of Michigan also help plan statewide conferences each year, like the Loleta Fyan Rural Libraries Conference, and workshops for new library directors and trustees. 

For more than 20 years, the library has sponsored the Michigan Notable Books Program where, each year, about 200 to 300 Michigan authors submit their books and a committee picks the best 20. The library releases a list of these Michigan Notable Books each January and helps plan author tours at libraries across the state. Earlier this month, the Library of Michigan Foundation hosted A Night for Notables, where the 2018 Michigan Notable Book authors were invited as special guests to receive their awards, enjoy a program with a renowned speaker from the literary community, and converse with invited guests.

"It's a way for us to celebrate these authors. I love seeing first-time authors who are so excited that their book is getting this type of recognition," said Bartlett. "This program gives us the opportunity to promote writing, books, Michigan, and libraries." 

Each floor of the library is home to a different collection of books. Unlike the public library, you won't find the latest Stephen King or J.K. Rowling novel here. All the fiction books at the library are located on the second floor and are either by Michigan authors or they're based in Michigan.

"All the same genres you would normally find in a fiction collection at a public library, you will find represented here – mystery, science fiction, romance, juvenile, etc. – but it's focused on Michigan authors and Michigan stories. 

The second floor is also where the library's reference collection is and where most of the library's Michigan collection is located. The Audio-Visual collection (DVDs and VHS tapes), maps, census records, and Michigan historical city directories are also on this floor, and this is where every issue of every Michigan periodical can be found on microfilm since the 1800s.

"We have the largest collection of Michigan newspapers anywhere," said Bartlett.

The law library is on the third floor, where it moved to after many decades in the Williams' Building. 

"We focus on Michigan law materials, but we also have a lot of resources on local and federal law and law in general," said Bartlett.

One extensive section of the law library is the records and briefs of the Michigan Supreme Court, a unique set of case documents and transcripts of testimony dating back to the 1870s.

Bartlett said, "A lot of people who contact and visit the law library are doing their own legal work – attempting to resolve issues with local, state and federal authorities or navigate the court system. We also help other government agencies and libraries with law-related questions.  Legal resources, both print and electronic, are especially expensive, so we are an important free resource for the local community and the state at large."

Current copies of newspapers are also on this floor and, every three to six months, many of the newspaper are replaced by microfilm to insure long-term preservation.

"My prediction is that newspapers will be the first major print format of information that you will see completely disappear. Our collection of current newspapers has significantly decreased in the last few years because newspapers have stopped publishing," said Bartlett.

Split between the third and fourth floors is the general interest book collection – with topics from religion and history to politics, economics, and public policy. The fourth floor is a federal documents depository – a collection of all the information published by the federal government since the 1860s.

Up until the late 1990s, the library received 100 percent of all the material published by the federal and state governments in print. "But now much of the information published by the federal and state governments are electronic – so we've had to change our practices on how we collect material and provide long-term access to it."

The fourth floor includes a historical collection of bound periodicals and magazines which chronical American culture and society.  

"One of the fun ways our patrons use this collection is to find period images, especially, advertisements. We have decades of titles like Life Magazine and Saturday Evening Post and others that can date back to the 19th century. This collection offers insight into American life and lifestyles, from how people viewed the world to what they were eating for breakfast. "

Because there are so many publications on the fourth floor, the library uses compact shelving on a movable rail system. Closely packed together, the shelves can be easily moved apart by electric motors to open an aisle. Don't worry – it has a motion-sensor, so no one will get squished between the shelves.

The Martha W Griffith Michigan Rare Book Room is also located on this floor.

"The library has been collecting since 1826 – and acquiring books published even before that. As time goes by, these materials become rare because they're no longer in print," said Bartlett.

"The criteria for what is deemed 'rare' varies – in some cases it is about the age and scarcity of the item, in others it is because it has a particular Michigan connection, such as 19th century Michigan Manuals with signatures of the governors or legislators from that time. Books that are fragile and deteriorating are also protected in this collection. Surprisingly, even current material can be considered rare if only a few copies were printed."

Every few months, library staff put together an exhibit with some of the books from the Rare Book Room and other collections. For instance, to celebrate Opening Day of baseball season, the library put together an exhibit of historic Tigers books and magazines, along with baseball memorabilia, and hosted an opening event, with appropriate appetizers of peanuts and cracker jacks, for baseball fans to come check out the exhibit. The exhibit is still open to library-goers.

"We had a great turnout and people had a lot of stories to tell about their own experiences with the Tigers," she said.

The library is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

"One of our primary clients is state government, so we offer special services to assist state employees with their work, including early entry between 8 and ​10 a.m., desktop delivery of books and articles, and access to databases that would otherwise charge a fee to individual users​," she said.

Bartlett encourages anyone that is researching a topic and/or planning a visit to first check the library's ANSWER Catalog and the digital repository Governing Michigan.  Another online resource for Michigan residents is the MEL (Michigan eLibrary), www.mel.org, which provides free access to full-text articles, full-text books, digital images, and other valuable research information. As in a traditional library, library users can borrow materials with a Library of Michigan card – available to anyone with a valid Michigan ID.

The Library of Michigan is located at 702 W Kalamazoo St, Lansing. For more information call 517-373-1300, email librarian@michigan.gov or visit www.michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan.

"The Library of Michigan is a law library, a government documents library, a public library, and a research library. We're all those things in one. I love the Library of Michigan," said Bartlett.​