Nobody is quite sure who destroyed the library or burned the books. But everyone does agree that civilization lost a priceless part of its heritage when that happened.
Our state has its own great library too, the Library of Michigan in Lansing, which has been around, in one form or another, since before we became a state. It contains 5.6 million priceless books, documents and records, all in a wonderful building in Lansing.
Any citizen can use the library and check out material from it. Additionally, thanks to federal matching funds, the state library system is able to subscribe to online databases that allow Michigan residents to access a vast array of resources from across the world.
But Governor Jennifer Granholm wants to end all of this and deprive Michigan residents of this invaluable resource. She has issued an executive order transferring control of the library to the Department of Education. And that‘s not just a meaningless bureaucratic procedure. Along with it comes dramatic cuts, and a real chance that the library’s extensive collections will be scattered.
James Seidl, who directs a consortium of 49 libraries on southern Michigan was deeply appalled. “Distributing or removing these collections destroys 180 years of collecting, cataloging an preserving materials,” he told the Toledo Blade last week.
In fact, the administration has been talking about converting the library building into some vague, yet to be formed entity called the Michigan Center for Innovation and Reinvention. I can hardly wait.
Nor does the governor’s assault on history and the arts stop there. The library is a casualty of her short-sighted decision to abolish the Department of History, Arts and Libraries.
What that would probably do is end all arts grants funding in the state, which means we would lose matching federal funds as well. The state librarian would be fired. The popular Michigan History magazine would stop publishing. The library would also stop allowing patrons to check out books, which, as respected Lansing columnist Susan Demas noted ironically, is sort of why libraries exist.
The real irony is that Granholm was originally elected with enthusiastic support from the arts community. They despised her predecessor, John Engler, even though he was the guy who created the department she wants to abolish.
Now I know what you are thinking. The state is running a massive budget deficit and cuts have to be made. Well, I couldn’t agree more. The deficit is something like $2 billion dollars.
But do you know how much abolishing the entire Department of History, Arts and Libraries would save? A mere two million. That’s one one-thousandth of what’s needed to close the gap. They could save more by postponing office building renovations.
There is, however, a way out. The legislature could reject this executive order and find the savings elsewhere.
Destroying our heritage for a pittance is crazy. Which is something even a modern-day barbarian should know.