EL REWIND: The East Lansing Public Library

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Saturday, April 25, 2015, 5:00 am
Ann Nichols

An informal and incredibly unscientific survey yielded these places as "The Heart of East Lansing:" MSU’s campus (6 votes), El Azteco (4 votes), The Peanut Barrel (5 votes), Hannah Community Center (2 votes), Peoples Church (4 votes), East Lansing High School, The Bailey Neighborhood, Campus along the Red Cedar, Ann Street Plaza, Chesterfield Hills, Grand River between Abbot and Collingwood, The MSU Library (2 votes), “the neighborhoods,” “the schools,” the 500 block of Grand River Avenue, Shaw Estates, All Saints Episcopal Church, The Marriott Courtyard, and Beggar’s Banquet (2 votes).

There was also this: “if I could put a Venn diagram on Facebook, the area where they intersect would be the East Lansing Public Library” (which got 3 votes total).

Good answers all, but the heart of this story is The East Lansing Public Library, which has been in the community since 1923, and at its present location on Abbot Road since 1963.

In its early years, the Library was relocated frequently as its collection and patronage grew. According to a 1998 history published in The Ingham County Newspaper Company, the Library was created by a group called The Child Conservation League in order to provide books for students at the Bailey School; it was was originally housed inside The Peoples Church. The Library moved to a larger space above The East Lansing State Bank in 1925, back to the new Peoples Church when it was constructed in 1926, and then into an addition built onto City Hall in 1931.

The original Library building at the current Abbot Road site was dedicated in 1963, although that footprint grew by 9,000 feet in 1975. The structure was designed by the firm of Manson, Jackson & Kane, and is an example of Mid-Century Modern architecture. This article provides detailed information about the building’s design and materials.

In addition to offering books, movies, audio books, meeting space,Maker Space, book clubs, a used book sale, computers, concerts, e-books and several programs for children, the Library is home to a variety of visual art. Throughout the building is a collection of oils, watercolors, prints and collages that may be borrowed and taken home, 

In front of the building is a sculpture of three children called “Who’s Watching Whom” by Jane De Decker, commissioned in 2004 to commemorate long-time Library volunteer Cheryl Spears. The North Foyer is dominated by a large, bright tapestry by East Lansing artist Margot Evans, and the space is also used for various gallery displays organized by Friends of the East Lansing Library.

Another statue, "Seated Girl" by Nancy Leiserowitz greets patrons as they approach the Library's main entrance. The statue was stolen in 2006, and later recovered.

The foyer in the front of the building features a mural, the work of East Lansing artist and illustrator Dirk Gringhuis. The mural, commissioned when the Library was built in the early 1960s, revolves around a variety of folkloric characters including Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. The title, inscribed on wood beneath the mural is “Rich soil of yesterday to grow tomorrow's dream.” (I confess to having been so terrified by the small red man in the mural as a child that I required repeated assurances that the red man was not real, and was not actually in the Library.)

The building itself is a local landmark and the services are impressive, but there's more, an ineffable something that calls us back again and again, to walk up the front steps of the Library when they're icy,when the flowering trees bloom on either side, when we're school kids on our own bikes and when we are parents holding the hands of our own children. 

Our community may have many hearts, but according to former East Lansing resident Julie Powers: "The library is the heart and soul of the real East Lansing - it's where townies congregate, where school kids study and hang out, it's where great art is accessible to everyone. This is the East Lansing that's not student-focused but rather a place where residents (and former ones like me) gather. It's the real community center of East Lansing. I read my first book there when I was just a little girl, under the watchful eye of my grandmother. I've been an active patron for more than 40 years and it's my fervent hope that ELPL will be there for many more generations to come."


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