Traverse City News and Events

The Pages Of History: New Book To Chronicle TC Libraries' History

By Ross Boissoneau | Nov. 29, 2020

Most everyone knows the history of the Traverse Area District Library: It used to be on Sixth Street and now it’s on Woodmere. But there’s so much more to the story, from its humble beginnings in the 19th century to moves to new locations, a near merger and the difficulties around the fight to create the “new” library on Woodmere in the 80s and 90s. It’s all part of an upcoming book tracing the history of libraries in Traverse City by author Heather Shumaker.

Shumaker has written a number of what she calls “life stories” for area non-profits and for families. She’s also authored books on parenting, a middle grade novel, and most recently Saving Arcadia, a suspenseful nonfiction book about the preservation of Arcadia Dunes. “Anne Magoun and Ann Swaney approached me because they knew the work I’d done,” says Shumaker.

She found the assignment particularly appropriate. “One of the first places I went to when I moved here was the Sixth Street library and got a library card.”

Magoun and Swaney are the co-chairs of the Committee to Record the Story of Traverse Area Libraries, a.k.a. CRSTAL. Magoun says the notion of writing a book about the trials, travails and finally success of building the library on Woodmere had been on her mind for years. “It’s been on the back burner for a number of people,” she says.

The first attempt to pass a millage to fund a new library in 1989 faced so much opposition the idea was tabled. When revived two years later, the issue failed. It wasn’t until 1996 that it passed, leading to the construction of the building on Woodmere.

Swaney says the approach was broadened from its original concept once they got Shumaker on board. She believed with their shared interest in history, it just made sense to start at the beginning. “Anne Magoun and I are both research geeks. The whole thing is exciting,” Swaney says.

Shumaker concurs. “The library story in Traverse City starts in the 1850s with the township library, but it was haphazard,” says Shumaker, noting it was just a couple shelves of books. In 1869, the Ladies’ Library Association was formed, which started a more formal library.

The two moved to different locations, even sharing the same building (though the collections remained separate), before finding a more permanent home on Sixth Street when the Carnegie Library opened in 1905. Its continued growth led to an expansion, before the new building on Woodmere opened in 1999.

“There are lots of tidbits,” says Shumaker of the history she has uncovered in her research. “Libraries were considered women’s work, like education and teaching morality.”

She says there are several parallels between the original library’s success and the eventually successful effort to fund and build the current main Traverse Area District Library. “There are a lot of tie-ins from the Ladies’ Library to the effort in the 1990s to build the one on Woodmere. The League of Women Voters really spearheaded it. There were men too, but a lot of strong women.”

The book concludes with the present day, noting both the expansion to other branches – Long Lake, Interlochen, Kingsley – and the effect of the pandemic on the library and patrons.

Another area it touches on is the impact of the internet and e-readers – or perhaps more precisely the impact many anticipated such advances would have on books and hence on libraries. “People thought libraries would go away. Libraries can be more than books – you can borrow guitars, telescopes – a library isn’t a building, it’s a collection,” says Shumaker.

The upcoming book has already garnered attention – and some fans who have helped finance the effort. The Friends of TADL approved funds in the amount of $3,000. The Traverse Area Historical Society committed $1,000 and research assistance. TAHS Board President Stephen Siciliano says, “We are excited about this new partnership with CRSTAL. Supporting this important project enables us to further the mission of our organization to protect, preserve and present the history of the Grand Traverse region.” 

Total cost is anticipated to be around $20,000. Anyone interested in helping provide funding for the project can do so online or by check by making them out to UWNWMI (United Way of Northwest Michigan), with the word CRSTAL on the memo line. Mail to Library History Project, P.O. Box 6835, Traverse City MI 49696.

The book is scheduled to be published in 2021; all profits will benefit the TADL Archives. 

Image provided by CRSTAL in collaboration with the Traverse Area District Library

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