Closing the book on the state library is no vision

By Kyle Melinn

Hey, does anyone want to buy one of the nation’s top 10 genealogy collections?

You know, trace your ancestors back to the 1700s. See which cool historical figures you’re related to.

Right now digging for your roots is free at the Library of Michigan. But since the state is flat broke and Gov. Jennifer Granholm has turned the Library and Historical Center into a garage sale, the entire collection is on the market, much like about everything else in the Library.

Interested in Michigan History magazine? Name your price.

Michigan’s rare book collection, documents, general reference books — just about any large collection inside that gorgeous building off Allegan Street near downtown Lansing could be moved to Michigan State University, Cooley Law School, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, wherever the best deal may be.

Right now, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the rest of state government are only in the business of putting our dwindling tax money into "essential services." The state Library doesn’t fall into that category.

After Oct. 1, unless something truly miraculous occurs in the state Legislature, the state librarian will be out of a job and the library will fall under the control of Michigan’s K-12 school chief, Mike Flanagan.

But this is what it’s come to in the state of Michigan.

We’ve bought lock stock and barrel this myth that state government is a bloated bureaucracy full of employees that do nothing but stare into the Capitol Plaza all day.

We’re convinced that whatever we’re taxed, it’s too much. Our state taxes always have to be lower. Whether they’re $1,500 a year or $1.50, it’s too much.

So our petrified leadership in state government allows the Republican Party to exploit these myths for their political gain. The ones that are hurt end up being us and our state’s reputation as a whole.

Granholm figures there’s no choice but to put the Department of History, Arts and Libraries,the envy of historians and librarians across the country, under a wood splitter, with some of the resulting pieces shoved into a chipper.

The state’s law collection. Gone. The state’s participation in the online lending library MeLCat. Gone. The Federal Documents Depository. Boxed up and put away.

Instead of figuring out a nominal fee structure for our national-leading genealogy collection or a library subscription, like she did with the state museum, the governor is parceling off HAL like an auctioneer at a pauper sale.

The state’s genealogists and librarians are trying valiantly to save HAL from getting its plug pulled. They’re planning a Capitol rally Sept. 10, the day before the governor’s HALkilling executive order goes into effect.

A Republican Senate-led committee is taking up a flock of self-serving bills that would move HAL to the Department of State and presumably preserve the state Library, but its future in the House isn’t promising.

For one, the secretary of state is a Republican. Second, two prominent Senate Republican members see themselves replacing Terri Lynn Land as the next secretary of state.

There isn’t that kind of ambition in the House.

And then there’s that little problem called the governor. God bless her. She has this great vision of the library entering into some sort of grand symmetry with Michigan State University called the "Center for Innovation and Reinvention," where culture and technology comes together … whatever that means.

She did what she has the power to do. She created a commission to study the idea and issued a press release. That’s the furthest this thing is going.

Honestly, who has the money to pull something like this off? Whatever this is.

If the state had an extra million bucks hanging around, they’d keep the Library’s doors open. If MSU had the money, it wouldn’t be indebting students to age 50 with its astronomical tuition (which is nearing Jupiter every year because the state can’t pitch in like it used to).

By the time this "reinvention" commission comes back with its final report on June 1, 2010, Granholm will have seven months left in her final term — hardly time to get blueprints together let alone pull off a project of such a grand scale. And there’s absolutely no guarantee our next governor will share this same vision.

No. The vision I see under the current direction is boxes. Lots of them. With books inside, rotting away abandoned somewhere, much like artist Michael Heizer’s "This Equals That" sculpture that once graced the Capitol Plaza and, at last report, was in a warehouse in Detroit after wasting away in a marshy field in Mason.

That’s the type of importance state government puts on culture.

And it’s not a vision for Michigan we should be proud of.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. His column appears weekly. Email him at melinn@lansingcitypulse. com.)