Image by Andy Thompson

Last Saturday, I toured Reader’s Cove Library nestled on picturesque Harsens Island, Michigan and was greeted by a fabulous crew of volunteers.

Out of the 30 libraries selected for the campaign, RCL is the only private library on the roster. In other words, it is not attached to a school district or a local municipality and receives no millage funds or State Aid. Because the library and the location are both very unique, this post is going to be a bit different than the previous 30Y.30L summaries.

How did I discover Reader’s Cove Library? My best friend, Melanie, lives full-time/year round on Harsens Island. Across the street from Reader’s Cove Library is Sans Souci Bar, one of my favorite places to eat. In fact, I celebrated my last day of work at SafePlace by having dinner at the bar.

You would be surprised by how many ask her, “You live on an island? Michigan has an island?!” Indeed. Harsens Island is a legitimate island without a connecting land mass or man-made structure. As a result, the island is only accessible via ferry.

Champion’s Auto Ferry runs 365(6) days a year, 24 hours a day. Being Michigan, the ferry service occasionally gets interrupted during the winter months when the river is full of ice. And yes, you can be “frozen” on or off the island — which is precisely why my friend keeps an overnight bag packed and ready during the winter months.

So where is this island? Harsens Island is located in Clay Township which is part of Saint Clair County, Michigan. Putting the island into terms of distance from Wayne State University, it is about 50 miles northeast of Kresge-Purdy Library which houses the School of Library and Information Science. In actuality, Harsens Island is just a few hundred feet away from Canada. Let’s just say that when the staff at RCL look out their front window, they have a view of the shipping channel and Walpole Island, a Canadian Indian reservation.

The library was founded in 1998 by Susan Masters, Barbara Persyn, and Don Thomas. It is housed in an old drugstore that still has the original soda fountain counter with stools (see my slideshow). In 2003, a car damaged the building’s front exterior which required a facelift resulting in the placement of the literary characters on the façade.
On June 16, 2005 the building which was owned by Walter and Mary Skula (who leased the building to the library free of charge) officially became owned by Reader’s Cove Library, Incorporated. In the past few years, the library has remodeled the inside to increase available shelf space and aid in accessibility.

Funding and Staffing
As I mentioned earlier in this post, Reader’s Cove Library is not funded by a governmental entity. The library is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and runs via volunteers, donations, fundraisers, and grants from private foundations.

In meeting with several of the library’s volunteers, I learned that the majority of them have been involved for close to ten years or more. Talk about dedication! Fact: throughout the community, the volunteers are known as the “library ladies.”

Service Area and Patronage
Since it is not a public or district library, Reader’s Cove Library’s service area has designated, by the Board of Directors, as Harsens Island — patrons residing, visiting (such as weekenders and out-of-town grandchildren), and those vacationing.

This stack sheds perspective as to how many books
are currently checked out of the RCL.

As you can imagine, the library is busier during the summer months; however, patronage does not drop off entirely when the weather grows cooler. Throughout my visit, a smattering of patrons stopped by to drop off materials with one of which who described the library as an open “social club” of sorts. Summer statistics: 5-10 people (weekdays); 30-40 people (weekends). Winter statistics: 1-4 people (weekdays); 10-15 people (weekends).

While the library does have a small budget for collection development, the majority of the items are donated by patrons and library supporters with the rest purchased by the library. A retired teacher and volunteer is in charge of purchasing for the library’s collection. Much of the adult fiction collection consists of popular bestsellers which is perfect for the weekend patron who is looking to escape from the weekly grind. Other elements of the collection include adult non-fiction as well as a small juvenile collection that includes both fiction and non-fiction which goes up to about 7th grade reading level.

Unique items: RCL houses a collection of Delta News, an island-based publication, as well as Life at the Flats by Michael M. Dixon and local artwork which is displayed in the library.

Intellectual Freedom
Since opening, the library has experienced at least one challenge to its collection which pertained to a children’s book in the context of religious elements.