Saturday, April 30, 2011

What is happening to libraries -- Michigan and Indiana

The spring issue of the Michigan Genealogical Council newsletter chronicles the ongoing process.

On the positive side, state census films are being indexed by Ancestry, and are expected on by this fall. Naturalization records from at least 59 of the state's 83 counties are expected on within a a year. After that, look for "survey notes, plat maps and land state patents." (Note also information on GenealogyWise's Michigan discussion group about changing URLs for some Michigan resources, including cemeteries.)

On the other side, the Library of Michigan now staffs only three service desks 10am-5pm. "If additional information is needed feel free to call the reference desk phone line at 517-373-1300 and they will return your call as time allows." (The Archives of Michigan is already open from just 1-5 weekdays.) And draconian cuts in state help for local libraries will cause the Troy library to close May 1st and Detroit Public to reduce staff by 20 percent.

It's not just Michigan. The Indiana State Archives, although dreadfully understaffed, has put up a number of useful databases on line as the Indiana State Digital Archives, and volunteers there are working on more. But the physical state archives (the vast majority of which are unique records that are not microfilmed or digitized) are located in an old warehouse that would not stand up to a tornado and whose roof leaks. As Indiana librarians and county genealogists were informed at their April seminar, the governor isn't interested in fixing that situation until he can find private contributions for the project.

Just to be clear: this is what's happening, read it as you will.

Personally, I do not think that the expansion of virtual libraries justifies or compensates for the short-sighted cuts being made to physical ones. A library that you can get to easily is a ladder that even a bad student, a nonconformist, an outsider can climb. Cutting and closing them takes rungs off the ladder. No one rung is essential. You can usually find a workaround. But when enough rungs are gone, it's not a ladder any more. It's just some sticks on the ground.

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