“The East Lansing library was the first place I went to when I moved here,” said Cindy Hunter Morgan, an East Lansing poet and a Michigan State University assistant professor. She also recalled being at the library when the 9/11 attacks happened.
Hunter Morgan will present a first reading of a new poem at the library’s centennial birthday party, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (March 11).
“I hope the poem acknowledges how very special the library is to me and the community,” she said. “It’s always been a place where friendships are made and supported.”
In addition to cake, cookies, music and giveaways, the event will feature congratulatory speeches from a variety of public officials recognizing the library’s important role in the community over the past 100 years.
As part of the yearlong celebration, the library is also sponsoring a Centennial Book Club, highlighting books from each decade since its founding. It was launched with a discussion of Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” and next up is a discussion of Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” on March 27.
Though library systems across the U.S. and right here in Michigan have been under siege from a variety of far-right groups who want to control what patrons read, the East Lansing library is standing strong.
“Libraries continue to be the central place where citizens can come to get factual information, and libraries will continue to fight for the people’s right to read and to provide accessibility for everyone,” Kristin Shelley, the library’s director, said. “The attacks on libraries are actually an attack on thinking and education.”
Even in the face of tragedy, like the recent mass shooting at MSU, the library is a beacon of hope.
“On Feb. 15, we opened only to offer crisis counseling for the community, and stress busters for the community will continue as needed. When a crisis happens in the community, we are there to help get through the crisis,” Shelley said.
She recognized that libraries serve an important role as “third spaces” in the community, acting as safe environments where all visitors are welcome, socioeconomic status is irrelevant and conversation and fun are encouraged.
After 11 years as director, Shelley’s favorite memories are having the opportunity to interview Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the library’s One Book, One Community program. It’s on hiatus at the moment, but Shelley is anxious to see it start up again.
During its lifetime, the library has undergone major changes as it adopted new technology and moved from the days of wooden card catalogs, now used by collectors for wine storage, to digital resources.
The Child Conservation League, which founded the first version of the library inside The Peoples Church of East Lansing in 1923, wouldn’t recognize it today. In addition to its mainstay of books, it now offers digital downloads of e-books, rows of computers, movies, music and the do-it-yourself Maker Studio.
Some of the changes, products of the COVID lockdown, were not planned, like the acceleration of digital services and the addition of remote-pickup book lockers.
“During COVID, the library quickly retooled itself and continued to be relevant,” Shelley said.
She said the book lockers, which can be utilized 24/7, were “super popular” — so much so that a private donor just offered to fund another bank of them.
The road to the library’s current location, a striking, mid-century building at 950 Abbot Road, was long and winding. It relocated from The Peoples Church in 1925 to a space at the East Lansing State Bank, now demolished, then moved back to a newly constructed Peoples Church on Grand River Avenue, then moved again to City Hall before finding a permanent home in 1963. In 1975, the Abbot site was renovated to include an additional 9,000 square feet of space.
The building is filled with beautiful, original art ranging from the mighty entrance showpiece “Michigan Folklore Mural,” by artist and book illustrator Dirk Gringhuis, to the delightful sculptures “Who’s Watching Whom,” by Jane DeDecker, and “Seated Girl,” by Nancy Leiserowitz, which bookend the entrance. Inside, a bright mural by local artist Margot Evans dominates the north foyer, and there are plans to add more murals to the front of the building.
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