November 7, 2011
Dear Fellow Genealogist,
The fall season is upon us. I love this time of year. I love Michigan and the distinctive changes of season. The fall season is probably one of my favorite. I love apple and pumpkin pie made with Michigan apples and pumpkins along with warm apple cider, the color of the trees as they change from green to orange and red, and the drop in temperature as we finally leave the 90’s and100’s behind.
There is a saying that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. I would like to add one more to that list, and that is change. Like the changes of season in Michigan, change is a constant. Change can be good and change can be bad, but we have the power, by changing our attitudes, to make change for the better.
In September, I spoke at our delegate meeting about more changes that may be implemented at the Michigan Department of Education/Library of Michigan (MDE/LOM). I have not put anything out about these proposed changes in writing as the situation is still very fluid and I do not want to put out misinformation. Everything I write in this day and age goes out on the internet and Facebook/Twitter accounts, as well as newsletters, etc. Having said that, I’d like to take this opportunity to inform you of what I do know.
The MDE/LOM was created for the support of state government. It started out more as a law library housed in the state capitol, and over the years, state librarians have taken the library into different directions and have opened their doors for use by the public. However, their mission was never changed to reflect the changes the previous state librarians’ implemented. Now in a time of belt tightening, the current management has chosen to go back to their core mission, and that is to serve state government. They have that legal right.
However, as we all know, the legislature has written language in the MDE’s budget that states the MDE/LOM will maintain the non-Michigan genealogy collection and make that collection available to the public. However, there was no funding attached with that language, which forces the library to use their remaining dwindling resources to support a collection that does not fit their core mission.
So in the meantime, this collection remains on the shelves with nothing being added, no repairs being made, and very limited staff time to support the collection and the public that uses those collections.
Staff time is more than the librarian on the floor, but also includes the people behind the scenes processing donations. There is staff that work behind the scenes to catalog, bind, etc. before items are put on the shelf for our use. Due to limited resources, the MDE/LOM is currently focusing their resources to processing donations that fit into their core mission. Therefore, please note that if you wish to make a donation, you may receive a letter referring you to Mark Harvey, State Archivist at the Department of Natural Resources/Archives of Michigan (DNR/AOM), which is part of the Michigan Historical Center. Mr. Harvey has expressed verbally to our board that they are willing to consider donations of materials that have not been accepted by the MDE/LOM. However, this will be on a case-by-case basis.
When you think about it, what is the core mission of a state Archives? That is to preserve the history of the state and educate the public on the state’s history. Michigan is very fortunate to have Mark as our Archivist and Sandra as the director of the Michigan Historical Center. They value family historians/genealogists and understand the link with history and the people who make that history, from the general down to the private. They understand that everyone’s story needs to be told and therefore welcome family historians to come and use their collections.
Therefore, I as President of MGC, with the approval of the full board, made a formal written request to Sandra Clark, Director, Michigan Historical Center requesting that she pursue talks with the MDE/LOM regarding the possible transfer of genealogical materials (both Michigan and non-Michigan) from the MDE/LOM to the DNR/AOM. Let me make this clear, these are only items in the collection that are genealogical in nature and that the MDE/LOM does not feel supports their mission. There will be many items that we use, such as the Michigan newspapers and Michigan city directories, that may remain at MDE/LOM. We will keep you updated as to the outcome of these talks as we are able.
I think back 15 years ago when I first started attending meetings at my local genealogical society. Personal computers and the internet were just starting to become the rage. I can remember board members being very upset that people would be willing to use this technology to do research. People came in excited about a “find” on the internet, only to have a room of 90 people or more laugh at them. No “self-respecting genealogist” would ever use the internet. This is a position that has hurt many societies, some to the point of extinction, as they realized too late the boon this technology is to genealogists.
I understand everyone’s passion and wanting to do something to fix this situation and to have things remain the same. I understand that change is hard. However, I ask that you please sit back and let these talks proceed.
In the meantime, I leave you with this task to consider both personally and as a society. While there are a lot of states that have great libraries, I ask that you work with Mark and Sandra to help them make Michigan stand out as having one of the best state Archives in the country. Join me to work with them to educate our community about the value of an Archive. Also take this opportunity to help them take advantage of those tourism dollars and tell the story of Michigan’s families. Let’s work to bring those tourists back to Michigan and introduce them to not just the library, but to the entire building which was built for that purpose. Let us be an instrument for positive change.
I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season,
Cynthia Grostick, President
Michigan Genealogical Council