Image by Andy Thompson

On Wednesday, November 16, I headed to the “Heart of the Thumb” —  Marlette, Michigan — and was fortunate enough to tour one of the last remaining Carnegie libraries in Michigan: Marlette District Library. Director Jessica Moore and long-time staff member Sue showed me their library and answered my list of questions. At the end of this post, you’ll find my slideshow of photos taken during my visit.

For those not familiar with the area, Marlette District Library is about 85 miles almost directly due north of Kresge-Purdy Library where the School of Library and Information Science is housed on Wayne State University’s Detroit campus. The State highway M-53, otherwise known as Van Dyke Road, straddles the city of Marlette with the library being on the west-side of the road.


In front of the library sits a historical marker that sheds quite a bit of light on the history of MDL. It reads:

In 1914 the Marlette Research Club, composed of women in the community, decided to build a public library for Marlette.  The club contacted the Carnegie corporation for a grant to build the library.  In compliance with the corporation’s rules, Marlette raised funds and instituted a quarter mil tax for maintenance of the library.  In 1918 the Carnegie Corporation agreed to fund the Research Club’s library project.  The simple brick building was constructed in 1921.  The building has a hipped roof and a portico of classical design.  The library was the last one in the Midwest to receive a Carnegie library grant and the second to the last to do so in the country.  The Marlette District Library is one of fifty-three Carnegie funded libraries in Michigan.

In 1991, the library constructed a much needed addition onto the south-end of the building. 

Service Area
Marlette District Library serves citizens residing in the City of Marlette and the following townships: Elmer, Koylton, Lamotte, and Marlette. In reviewing 2000 Census data, 2,104 people resided within the city limits Marlette, Elmer Township (790), Koylton Township (1,579), Lamotte Township (981), and Marlette Township (2,104-2,051=53) = a total of 4,717 citizens. However, comparing the 2000 to the 2010 Census data, there has been a -3.2 percent change.

Patrons residing outside of the library’s designated service area are eligible for a library card with a one-time $10.00 fee. (I think I need to write a blog post about this topic as there seems to be quite a bit of confusion amongst my non-library friends.) Think about it this way: if you lived within the service area, you would be paying taxes to cover your library usage. Paying a ONE TIME fee of $10.00 at the time of application is much less expensive in the long run. In fact, one library in which I purchased borrowing privileges requires an annual $40 fee. The out-of-area borrower fees, like tax money, help to offset the operating costs of the library which includes the books on the shelves and the e-books in which you download. 

Size and Operating Budget
According to the Library of Michigan, MPL is a Class 2 library which meets the following standards:

  • Serves a population of 4,000 to 6,999;
  • Be open a minimum of 20 hours per week;
  • Employ (at least 20 hours per week) a director with at least a Level 4 certificate.

Currently, Marlette District Library is open 44 hours a week and has an operating budget of about $110,000.  

Programming Idea 
Here is another spin on the traditional book club: Rather than members reading the same book, mix it up and each read something different. At the next meeting, each person shares their latest read and the group is able explore a variety of books — some of which members likely never thought of reading! 

Marlette District Library, belonging to the White Pine Library Cooperative and the Valley Library Consortium, has about 18,000 items in its collection and circulates about 33,000 materials annually.

In the juvenile collection, the young adult works have been recently separated from the main collection making browsing for easier for teens. For ease of finding, biographies and other popular non-fiction works are donning spine labels. Examples: biographies, geography, war, and books about Native Americans. Over the years, for children’s easy books it has been the practice of many libraries to simply label the first letter of the author’s surname on the book’s spine. While Marlette District Library partakes in this practice, they took it a step further and began alternating colors. For example: the labels for A will have a yellow background while the labels for B will have a different color. It certainly made browsing much easier and seems like it could speed up the shelf reading process for Pages.

Like other rural public libraries in the area, Marlette District Library has separated the adult fiction collection by genre: Christian fiction (most popular), Mystery, and Western. The large print collection is has also been separated as well as the biographical works in the non-fiction collection.

Special/unique items: Marlette and Michigan history, genealogy, and access to the Marlette Leader via microfilm. 

Intellectual Freedom Issues
The book And Tango Makes Three (2005) written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole received some controversy and was subsequently reclassified and shelved with the non-fiction works. Fact: And Tango Makes Three has made the America Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books List in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010.

Several years ago, a Judy Blume book was informally challenged — likely by a parent. Books on witchcraft often go missing. Speaking of which (haha)…

Last year, when I was required to visit several libraries for LIS 6010 with Dr. Maria Gonzalez, I began asking librarians how the Harry Potter series was received in the community. The series has experienced controversy over the years and has landed itself on the frequently challenged materials list compiled by the American Library Association. As far as the series goes in Marlette, the series was very well-received. In fact, it has needed to be replaced a few times. Occasionally, a patron will donate a gently-used copy which has found its way into the library’s circulation. 

Unique Observations
Going back to the library’s history, Marlette District Library constructed an addition in 1991. The basement in the newer section features a large, open room which is perfect for book sales and children’s activities.

Inside the library’s front foyer, there is a tall metal shelf which houses a free book exchange for patrons and non-patrons alike.

Also of note, I was impressed by how much display area was available within the library. Great for readers’ advisory! 

Favorite Technology
Jessica and Sue both cited computers as their favorite sources of library technology. Rather than thumbing through a handful for books, Sue has used computers to assist with answering reference questions. Jessica is thankful for mConsole, which is a technology management system that single-handedly coordinates the handling of patron computer usage from WIFI access, enforcing time limitations, content monitoring to basics such as printing — it does it all.