Image by Andy Thompson

On Friday, December 6, I headed into town in order to meet with Gail Narker, the Director of one of my favorite places on this Earth: Sandusky District Library.

Why did I select SDL? Let me tell you a little about my relationship with SDL. After getting married and updating my driver’s license to reflect my new address and last name, the very next thing I did was become a patron of Sandusky District Library. In fact, it was the first task I completed after I came back to the States from my honeymoon.

I use the collection frequently enough that I have my library card number committed to memory. I have a special ringtone, the Harry Potter theme, to let me know that the library (usually Joy) is calling to alert me that my interlibrary loan books are available for pick-up — very handy when I am working on a project for class. Just about every semester thus far, I have met with Gail to get the rural pulse on topics covered in my various classes — from collection development to information technology and library administration / management. I admire Gail, look up to her as a professional, and consider her my library mentor.


SDL is located in the City of Sandusky, Michigan which is designated as the county seat of Sanilac County. Sanilac County is located in the thumb area of Michigan — a peninsula of a peninsula. M-46 and M-19 intersect Sandusky with SDL being situated on the east side of town.

For the majority of libraries visited thus far, I have cited the distance from SDL…obviously, I’ll need to change it up a bit time this. From my home, SDL is about 6 miles or roughly 10 minutes away. In relation to the School of Library and Information Science, which is housed in the Purdy-Kresge Library on Wayne State University’s downtown Detroit campus, SDL is about 85 miles (2 hours) to the north — the main reason why I am in the online program.

Service Area, Size, and Operating Budget
Sandusky District Library serves the following: Argyle Township, Bridgehamptom Township, Buel Township, Custer Township, Elmer Township, Flynn Township, Moore Township, City of Sandusky, Washington Township, Watertown Township, and Wheatland Township. Neighboring libraries include: Aitkin Memorial District Library (Croswell), Brown City Public Library, Deckerville Public Library, Elk Township Library (Peck), Marlette District Library, and Sanilac District Library (Port Sanilac).

The library’s service area has a population of about 7,100 giving the agency a Class 3 designation. According to the Library of Michigan, a Class 3 library serves a population of 7,000 to 11,999 and needs to:

  • Be open a minimum of 30 hours per week.
  • Employ (at least 30 hours per week) a director with at least a Level 3 certificate.

Other relevant facts and figures about Sandusky District Library:

  • The library has 16 staff — 2 of which are full-time.
  • Operating budget: about $250,000 — about $38,000 is designated for collection development.
  •  SDL has about 35,000 items in its collection
  • 73,000 = annual circulation (without interlibrary loan)

From SDL’s website:

The Sandusky Public Library was established in a storefront on South Elk Street in 1937 after Alice Coapman, wife of the Presbyterian minister, persuaded the Sandusky Study Club to promote the idea of a library. The women enthusiastically went about acquiring shelving, books, magazines and money. After spearheading a successful millage vote for operational funding, the Sandusky Public Library opened on June 8, 1937. In 1955, the library moved to a facility on West Speaker Street, where it shared space with other city offices and services. Since 1955, the population in Sandusky grew modestly, but circulation of library resources grew substantially. The library added programs and resources to reflect the growing and changing interest and pursuits of the community.
In 1997, sixty years after its founding, the Sandusky Public Library reached a crucial point in it’s history. It had outgrown it’s facility and required additional resources, including technology, if it was to continue to meet the needs of the community. The library board and staff carefully considered the needs of the community and determined Sandusky needed a larger library that provides more resources.
The library board recommended a plan that called for a new 7,600 square foot facility. The new facility offers enhanced programs, services and storage space, as well as greater educational and recreational opportunities for the entire community.
The dream of many has become a reality. The new Sandusky District Library Grand Opening was held March 6, 2000.
    Danielle, Gail, and Taylor

    About the Director
    Gail attended Central Michigan University and worked in the school’s library while earning her degree in Library Science.

    Prior to her tenure at SDL, she ran the school libraries for the elementary and middle school in Cass City, Michigan.

    Favorite part of the job: “I love the creativity. With this job, you are only limited by your imagination and the budget.” Least favorite part of the job: “Conflict. I don’t care for the conflict.”

    Gail is a firm believer in presentation. Periodically throughout the day, Gail and staff will take just a few minutes to tidy up the library after traffic dies down. Each night before closing, she asks that staff walk the building to straighten materials, displays, and push in chairs. As a patron, I can attest to the library’s neatness which makes browsing so much more enjoyable. Gail has also invested in a cleaning service and has stayed on top of maintenance issues which has ultimately kept the 12 year old building looking fresh and new.

    Intellectual Freedom
    In summer of 2010, 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.

    At SDL: “No problems or issues. Hunger Games is more of an issue because of the violence.”

    Notes and Observations

    • The previous Director, Harriet Eagle, was an avid genealogist and built quite the collection which has resulted in an entire room being devoted to the housing works. Over the years, people from all over the country have visited the library to use the collection. Keeping with the times, SDL has digitized parts of the collection and has made them available online for researchers. Due to several thefts, the genealogy room is now closely monitored by staff. 
    • In the mid-1990s, by way of help from Barbara Hutchinson (director of Rawson Memorial District Library prior to the current director of Kate Van Auken), SDL was able to became an automated library.
    • Sandusky Public Library became a district in 1998.
    • In 1999, the voters granted SDL a millage in perpetuity.
    • Currently, SDL has a book display set up called “Reading Group Choices.” Thanks to the Friends of the Library, when a patron checks an item out from this display, they get a free copy of Reading Group Choices 2012: Selection for Lively Book Discussions.
    • SDL makes use of colorful spine labels to assist patrons with browsing — especially in the children’s collection. For example, the adult fiction collection is shelved by various genres such as: Christian Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction / Fantasy, and Mystery. 
    • Paperbacks are shelved separately.
    • Popular with patrons: Christian Fiction.
    • Fines and Unreturned Materials: “Most people try to return materials, but sometimes life gets in the way. Have compassion. If you take the edge off [the process], you will lose less material.” It is the policy of SDL to only charge up to the replacement cost of the book. (For those not in the LIS field, the cost to replace actually goes beyond the sticker price as the item still needs to be made shelf-ready which requires both materials and staff time.) 
    • At the time of my visit, SDL was just kicking off their Food for Fines program — a fine amnesty program. 
    • SDL is participating in the Geek the Library community awareness campaign. The library has a Flickr account where they have uploaded loads of Geek the Library photos.
    • The library’s website was created by Sanilac Computer Products who also developed mConsole — an “integrated software solution to help libraries manage their workstations, waiting lists, printers, and wireless devices” which SDL uses.