The Great Lakes have spawned a multitude of institutions from research to governance to the arts—but no library. Several leaders say it’s long overdue.
Inspired by a 2016 New York Times article about work to establish a Rocky Mountain Land Library, co-founder Deborah Burand said, “We need to do this, but make it a land and water library, a Library of the Great Lakes.”
Why a Library of the Great Lakes? Co-founder Inger Schultz points to the library’s mission statement: “to inspire and support exploration of the science, history, literature, arts, and cultures of the Great Lakes region.”
Conceived six years ago, the Library of the Great Lakes is an idea moving toward realization. The organizers have obtained nonprofit status and created a vision for the Library. Originally envisioned as a brick-and-mortar building and a library boat going port to port, the concept of a virtual library, first explored in 2018, has been affirmed by the pandemic and by what was learned during their research—access is everything. Environmentally and fiscally, keeping a light footprint for the near future allows a greater focus of resources on serving the larger community—a library without walls, as the organizers describe it.
The current phase of the Library entails work to amplify collections around the Great Lakes and to create local events and exhibits. This library without walls would be a curated portal, a hub to help guide exploration of the collections of the Great Lakes—a gathering place to share ideas, new works and old sagas. The Library is looking at new ways to experience the Great Lakes and the lands and cultures surrounding them.
Combining a curated portal with “pop up” local events and exhibits will enable the Library to reach communities around the region without the burden of overhead infrastructure. The Library has already co-sponsored events in Ann Arbor and Saugatuck, Michigan, including readings this summer by poet Alison Swan and author Lynne Heasley.
Co-founder Burand is a professor of clinical law at New York University Law School. She is the director of the International Transactions Clinic and faculty co-director of the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship. She spends time between her two favorite places—New York City and Saugatuck. When not teaching, she writes essays and fiction.
Fellow co-founder Schultz is a life-long advocate for arts and the environment. She co-founded Shakespeare in the Arb. A chemical engineer by training, Schultz tested public water supplies, studied bioremediation, and taught technical communications and now writes, farms, hikes, kayaks and sails in the Great Lakes region.
Another of the original Library co-founders is nationally recognized author Jerry Dennis, whose most recent award-winning book is Up North in Michigan: A Portrait of Place in Four Seasons. Dennis will discuss his works in a conversation with fellow author, and FLOW senior advisor, Dave Dempsey on August 25 in Traverse City at an in-person and live-streamed event sponsored by the National Writers Series.
Currently, a working board and an advisory committee provide management and oversight over the Library of the Great Lakes. The board welcomes inquiries through the Library website.
Welcome to the Library of the Great Lakes
Contained within the immensity, complexity, and beauty of the Great Lakes are stories of shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes, and glaciers; of mammoths, and hunters; of First Nations, explorers, fur-traders, miners, and loggers; of great ships and bustling cities and industries that changed the world; of countless lives altered, enriched, and lost. The Great Lakes region is the home to innovation, research, technology, science, industry, architecture, poetry, theater, freshwater studies, lake effect snow, sustainable agriculture, fisheries, wilderness, and wildness.
One fifth of Earth’s fresh surface water is contained in the Great Lakes. Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior are so big they create their own weather.
It is time they had their own Library.