The venerable Detroit Public Library (DPL) celebrates its 150-year anniversary this year; it was founded in 1865 in a single room of the old Capitol High School which was located at State and Griswold Streets downtown. When it opened, the DPL had a total collection of 5,000 printed and bound books. The Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, which is celebrating its own 100-year anniversary in 2015, is one of the finest research collections in the world. Many of us in the El Moore Writing Group did a great deal of our research at the Burton.
The main branch of the library, located in the Midtown/Cultural Center area, is very close to the El Moore: just a short bike ride or leisurely walk away. The DPL, one of Detroit’s historic “Jewels”, has kept up with the times, and now offers computer skills classes, services for the disabled, access to eBooks and audiobooks, a technology center, research assistance, and many other services. Today’s DPL is not your mother’s library.
I am a writer, an editor, an English teacher and college instructor, and a business owner. I was educated in the Detroit Public School District from kindergarten through high school, and I love reading, history, and research. As I was growing up in Detroit (pre-Internet), one of my “second” homes was the Detroit Public Library.
I’ve always loved reading, and as a child, I would bury myself in books. Of course, my parents encouraged my reading and studying and took me to the library regularly to check out books. As soon as I could walk places by myself, I spent time at the Duffield Branch Library on West Grand Boulevard near 14th Street. Beautiful oak doors and floors; huge columns; aisle upon aisle of books—thousands of books. I can still experience the strength, smell the wood, and envision the ornamentation of the heavy doors, tables, and chairs, and feel the marble floors under my feet. The Duffield Branch is still there; still majestic; still serving its neighboring community.
When I attended high school at Cass Tech, my new “second” home was the Main Detroit Public Library located in Midtown in Detroit’s Cultural Center. The DPL is the fourth-largest library in the United States and the Main Branch alone houses over 7 MILLION volumes. It has three floors, many different rooms for special research needs, and as many books, periodicals, audio and visual files, records (the 33-, 45-, and 78rpm kind), and other digital and paper-based files as any bibliophile could want.
You could get lost in the massive rooms of the Main DPL, and as a high school student, I happily did get lost in all of the many areas that piqued my interest. The building itself is so beautiful: built in the Italian Renaissance style with a fireplace made with Pewabic tile, historic murals, and a grand marble staircase leading to the arched ceilings on the 2nd floor.
After spending hours “in the stacks” researching and writing the seemingly endless essays and reports I was assigned and when the day’s library hours were sadly over, and I left for home after sundown with an armful of books to do even more studying. I boarded the Dexter bus at the stop right in front of the Library, deposited my 15⍧ discounted student bus fare, rode to my stop on West Grand Boulevard and LaSalle Boulevard and walked the final five blocks home, passing Aretha Franklin’s home on the way, by myself in the dark. It never occurred to me to call my parents to “come and get me;” not in those days. The DDOT buses ran on a regular schedule, and I just made sure I was in the house by 9:30pm.
Today, the Detroit Public Library is still a wonderful place to lose yourself among the books; the Main Library is open Tuesdays through Saturdays. You can still get a library card–now it’s plastic with a digital strip on the back, and still check out your favorite books, videos, albums, CDs and DVDs, and other media. You can still perform the best research with or without the Internet, and get assistance from the still extremely knowledgeable librarians. Most importantly, you can just sit and read in silence and stillness, a welcome respite from today’s “always-connected” world.
Happy 150th, Detroit Public Library!