History

 

Introduction

On February 2, 1954, Dr. Norman E. Clarke, Sr. donated his collection of historical books and other material to his alma mater, Central Michigan College. This gift created the Clarke Historical Library. Over the next fifty years the library grew and expanded, but despite change remained faithful to the vision Dr. Clarke, Sr., expressed at the Library's dedication ceremony:

I know there is a vanity for some in rare book collecting and that only the unique can satisfy this vanity. My purpose has been to preserve not only rare books but even the commonplace because both help portray the life, the thoughts, and the culture of the pioneer people to whom we owe so much.1

Today the library named in Dr. Clarke's honor continues to collect the rare and the commonplace, to document the people of Michigan and the Old Northwest territory, as well as to serve in other capacities for which the library has assumed responsibilities over the years.

 

Dr. Norman E. Clarke, Sr. and the Origins of the Collection

Born August 27, 1892, Norman Clarke was the son of James Clarke and Hanna Grove Clarke. James Clarke was a veterinarian who had emigrated with his family from Canada and settled in Mount Pleasant. Although his father died when he was seven, Clarke later in his life recalled his childhood in almost idyllic terms, comparing his exploits to those of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. 2

As a boy Norman Clarke had two particular interests: books and collecting. His interest in collecting first showed itself in gathering birds' eggs. Young Norman's egg collecting ended abruptly one day, having climbed up a tree to gather an egg, he found his pockets full and hands occupied, so he placed the egg in his mouth. As he climbed out of the tree a limb broke, Norman fell, and the rotten egg broke in his mouth. The boy was not seriously injured, but the taste of the egg lingered, and his interest in collecting bird's eggs ended.

Norman's future collecting was profoundly influenced by an elementary school teacher who rewarded his academic efforts by lending him a first edition of one of Mark Twain's books. The boy was equally fascinated both by the story and the book itself. He decided to replace his egg collection with a book collection. For the rest of his life he would remain true to this decision.

Although Norman had decided how to spend his spare hours when he was quite young, it took a good deal longer for him to decide how to earn his daily bread. His first effort at employment led him to quit high school for a high-paying factory job. When this turned out to be not quite what he had anticipated, he returned to Mount Pleasant and in 1913 received a teaching certificate from "the Normal,"as CMU was universally called in town. His first teaching assignment was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where he found himself the regular companion of the local doctor. A career in medicine appealed to him. He returned again to the Normal and was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in 1920. In 1921 he received a master's of medicine degree from the University of Michigan. That same institution subsequently awarded him a master's degree in internal medicine in 1923. In Ann Arbor Dr. Clarke was trained in the workings and diagnostic uses of one of medicine's most recent innovations- the electro-cardiograph machine.

Dr. Clarke would spend the rest of his professional career serving patients as one of the state's leading cardiologists. But if cardiology was his calling, collecting books was his passion. His first collecting interest, harkening back to his boyhood, was to obtain first editions of Mark Twain's many books. While he was busy gathering Twain volumes, Dr. Clarke also began to buy a book or two about history. As the number of twain items on his "want" list grew shorter, Dr. Clarke's historical acquisitions began to grow. Over time he came to focus on collecting material about Michigan and the Old Northwest.

As his collection grew, Dr. Clarke found that housing it became an increasing burden. Eventually the books and other material he had collected found their way to his medical office and he discovered that he was involved in two practices: helping both those with heart disease and those whose hearts yearned to see his books. Beginning as early as 1943, Dr. Clarke began to consider getting out of the library business by donating the books to a worthy institution.

 

Finding the Collectionan Institutional Home

After years of thought and discussion, in 1954 Dr. Clarke and Charles Anspach, president of Central Michigan College, came to an understanding that brought Dr. Clarke's collection of historical material to Mount Pleasant.

The gift that began the Clarke Library consisted of 1,500 books, 60 groups of manuscripts, 150 maps, 400 visual items, 50 broadsides, and a number of early papers. It was a wide-ranging collection, including treasures, historically valuable works, memoirs, and works of scholarship, commercial publications, opinion pieces, and works of fiction.

Items found among this gift included:

  • The first book printed in Michigan, L'Ame Penitente, ou le Nouveau Pensez-y-Bien; Consideration sur les Vérités Eternelles, avec des Histoires & des Exemples(Detroit: Jacques M. Miller, 1809).
  • William Beaumont's influential and medically significant Experiments and observations on the gastric juice, and the physiology of digestion(Plattsburgh, N.Y.: F. P. Allen, 1833).
  • Among the historically valuable works were many early county histories such as Samuel Durant, History of Oakland County (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1877); or Richard I. Bonner, Memoirs of Lenawee County (Madison, Wis.: Western Historical Association, 1909).
  • Memoirs such as Detroit Mayor John Lodge's I Remember Detroit (Detroit: Wayne State College, 1949) and Christian Missionary Isaac McCoy's History of the Baptist Indian Missions (Washington, DC: W. M. Morrison, 1840).
  • Then contemporary scholarship such as F. Clever Bald's, Detroit's First American Decade, 1796-1805 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1948); and Lewis VanderVelde's, Glimpses of Early Dutch Settlers in

Michigan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1947).

  • Commercial publications that had taken on historical significance such as the Report of the Quincy Mining Company (1881) and information from the Cleveland, Detroit & Lake Superior Co.
  • Works of fiction also were part of the gift including Ward R. Brown's, Impressions in Poetry of Willow Run (Ypsilanti: self-published, 1944), several examples of the poetry of Edgar Guest, one of America's most beloved writers in the early twentieth century, and Michigan's "sweet singer" Julia Moore's The Sentimental Songbook (Cleveland: J. F. Ryder, 1877).

 

But the collection's importance, however, went beyond the individual items found within it. As Howard Peckham, who was then director of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, said in his remarks at the library's dedication:

We should not dismiss this collection as the product of a hobby, as if the donor were a stamp collector or a woodworker, and given a certain investment the result was foreordained. This is the product of spending money, and a good deal of money, yes- but it is also the product of a mind exercising judgments. The collection has something more than its component parts would have in isolation. For a collection of books is a mathematical phenomenon; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Building something that was greater than the sum of its parts would become a fundamental goal of the library.

 

Establishing the Library: The Early Years

Dr. Clarke had given a great deal of thought to his gift. Rather than simply present Central with his books, he asked that the school take on the responsibility of perpetuating his library. President Anspach pledged specifically to Dr. Clarke that in return for his gift a number of terms would be met. The four most important terms were that the collection would be well-housed, that the collection would grow both through purchases funded by Central and through the solicitation of gifts from others, that an adequate staff would be retained to care for the material, and that a Board of Governors would be established to participate in the library's growth. Dr. Clarke, and subsequently a member of his family, would serve on this board for as long as they desired.

Dr. Anspach's pledges, however, did not fully realize Dr. Clarke's dream. Clarke hoped for a great research library equal to those found in more established universities with substantially larger budgets President Anspach's vision was likely more limited. Central was a teacher's college that had offered the first course of Michigan history taught in the state at the collegiate level. Central was poor in comparison to many of Michigan's other institutions of higher learning. Anspach viewed Dr. Clarke's collection primarily as a tremendous asset in teaching state history to Central's students.

Over the years the tension created by these two views led to disagreement that stimulated the library's growth. In 1955, however, there was no disagreement over what needed to be done: Dr. Clarke's material needed to be transported to Mount Pleasant, housed, and cataloged. The collection was installed in its own space within the new library building. Funds were made available for acquisitions. A "custodian"of the collection was hired. That custodian, George J. Heckroth, became the library's first director. Heckroth's initial labor was to organize and catalog Dr. Clarke's gift. The process, however, was slow. By 1958 only 700 items from the original gift had been cataloged. The following year, in 1959, a cataloger was added to speed the process and, incidentally, create a library staff.

Despite the need to deal with the material already in the library, it was clear that neither Dr. Clarke, the library's Board of Governors, which first met in 1958, the staff, or even President Anspach, could keep from dreaming about the library's future or adding new material to the shelves. Despite the backlog of material in need of processing, al-, most as soon as the Board of Governors came into existence it was successful in convincing the University to spend $1,000 to purchase a collection seen by some board members as representing a unique opportunity to expand the library. This was the first of many "unique opportunities"to enlarge the collection that was made possible through university funding, private giving, a generous founder, or some combination of all these funding sources. Spending money mattered, but as Peckham had noted, judgment mattered more.

Although everyone agreed that obtaining carefully selected new material was a good policy, the more fundamental and difficult question to be addressed by the Clarke Board was the nagging problem of how the library should grow and whom it should serve. Harold Moll, a founding member of the Board of Governors, framed this issue when he asked of the Board, "What is the goal and how do we want to use the collection?" To this question President Anspach, voicing the university's aspirations, replied:

  • One for students
  • Two to add materials from the Old Northwest Territory, primarily Michigan
  • Three we are now offering a Masters Degree and the Collection will be a good place to get source material

Dr. Clarke's answer to Mr. Moll's question was less precise than Dr. Anspach's but in keeping with his belief that the institution should be a library with a mission that went beyond simply serving the immediate needs of CMU students:

Very little good history is written but I do believe that this library could become a center for anyone interested in searching historical material. The dissemination of historical research … would be of historical value and could grow and be of great importance.

Dr. Clarke eventually made clear that he was interested in the library offering a broad array of services. He saw the possibility of the library developing "a great interest in all people in their cultural background"and he was a strong proponent of outreach tools such as exhibits in order to accomplish this. Publications and publicity also were matters of great interest to him and to all the members of the Board of Governors in the library's first years.

The challenge of defining the library's mission would continue for many years. It evolved over time to meet changing situations and changing views, but generally, the library's mission statement stayed closer to the vision of Dr. Clarke, although always very mindful of the needs expressed by Dr. Anspach. The first formal effort to resolve the question came in the form of a mission statement adopted in 1959. The Clarke Library was:

  • To develop a consciousness of and interest in the historical heritage of the Old Northwest.
  • To acquire historical materials relating to this area.
  • To conserve the materials comprising the Clarke Historical Library Collection.
  • To simulate study and research, primarily in the area of the Old Northwest.
  • To promote and develop interest of individuals, groups, and organizations in the Clarke Historical Library to the end that individuals, groups, and organizations will contribute actively to the attainment of the objectives of the Library.

This statement was an important step in focusing the library's efforts as a research library that could also support undergraduate study. Work to implement the statement, however, was put aside when George Heckroth resigned in 1960. A new director would have to be found to fulfill the mission.

 

Implementing the First Mission Statement

After some casting about, Dr. Clarke proposed the University hire as director John Cumming, a man he described as "an antiquarian and collector of books as far as his means permit."In 1961 John Cumming was named second director of the Clarke Library. Over the course of the next twenty-one years Cumming, who held a master's degree in literature and had accumulated enough course hours to fulfill that portion of the requirements for a doctorate, proved himself to be an auspicious choice for the position.

With a new director in place, objectives that had been discussed and partially implemented in the first years of the library began to be achieved. Through the combination of staff initiative, directives from the Board, and university emphasis, five areas became the focus of library activity. The first four generated substantial visibility and discussion:

  • The growth of the collections
  • Publicity about the Library and its holdings.
  • Publications
  • Exhibitions

The fifth area of focus, the unglamorous but essential work of cataloging and reference, also served as a core function but these were largely performed without fanfare.

Publicity has always been on the agenda of the library's Board of Governors and the University. A new endeavor such as the Clarke Library needed to be promoted. In its energetic new director the Board and the University found the person to advance this objective. Cumming wrote a stream of press releases that were circulated to newspapers around the state and were reprinted with surprising regularity. He also spoke at a wide range of meetings, spreading the word about the Clarke. Cumming took advantage of the opportunity his travels offered to meet individuals who owned items that might be donated to the Clarke, or if friendly persuasion failed, perhaps purchased. Cumming traveled extensively on behalf of the Clarke, once logging 2,800 miles in a single month. Cumming even managed to convince WCMU, the campus radio station, to give the Clarke a half-hour of air time weekly, officially to discuss Michigan history but unofficially to promote the Clarke.

A publications program, too, had often been discussed, but early efforts in this area had largely centered on pamphlets and other material designed to make the Library better known. While these publications continued to appear, three other types of printing projects emerged. First, the Library routinely reproduced short historical documents, which were given as gifts to friends and supporters. For example the issue of the Northern Islander that reported the shooting of James Jesse Strang was reproduced. Second, interesting out-of-print books began to appear from the Clarke. Titles such as Shanty Boy and the Pioneer History of Grand Blanc Township were re-issued. Finally, the occasional original book appeared, beginning in 1961 with Warfare along the Mississippi, which was edited by Dr. Clarke. Over time, the balance between in-house publications, reprints, and new scholarship would ebb and flow, but the emphases on publication, and sharing the library and its resources with the public remained consistent.

The Clarke's publication program, particularly the library's role in reprinting valuable older volumes, won national recognition in 1965 when the American Association of State and Local History presented the Library with an Award of Merit. Although the publication program brought the Clarke considerable attention, it also involved a significant commitment of staff time. Planning for a new building in the mid-1960s stole time away from the publication program and slowed the appearance of new material, but in 1969 the reprint series was resumed with the publication of Fifty Years of Slavery by Harry Smith.

Maintaining the publications program, particularly the publication of original books, proved financially challenging. The library's Board as well as its staff often expressed the hope that the program could be made financially self-sufficient. This hope however, was challenged early on. In 1962 Justin Foust, president of the University, noted that university presses rarely make money. As the years passed, it became increasingly clear that President Foust's observation was well taken. Despite much hard work the Clarke's publication program proved no exception to this rule. The desire to publish original monographs, although it sometimes led to library publications, increasingly became a financial burden beyond the library's resources and eventually became possible only with substantial outside support.

Exhibitions in the library's original home, in what is today Ronan Hall, proved extremely difficult to mount. The space was cramped and there was little room to show more than the occasional new acquisition. Larger, systematic exhibits of material waited on the space to accommodate them.

Publicity, publications, and exhibitions, while important, tended to be subsidiary to the ultimate goal of the Board of Governors and the staff; expanding the library's holdings. The Clarke was a new library with a promising but small beginning, so expanding its holdings was seen as the critical need. Ultimately, the library's reputation would rise or fall on the breadth and scope of its holdings.

In John Cumming, the library had acquired a director who recognized this basic fact and was more than up to the challenge of expanding the collection. By his second meeting with the Board of Governors, Cumming was aggressively promoting growth. He pointed to the need to establish "definite plans for acquisitions"and outlined "plans which are being formulated to fill out the historical collections of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. In addition a special effort is being made to fill out the microfilm holdings of newspapers and to acquire early census records and other manuscript material" Growth, however, needed to be done intelligently and it had to balance the inevitable desire for rare items against the need for more pedestrian volumes that nevertheless played an important role in document the history of the Old Northwest Territory and Michigan. Dr. Clarke had said he desired, "not only rare books but even the commonplace." John Cumming would express an identical concern somewhat differently. "It [the library] has an obligation and an irresistible desire to add rare books, the rarer the better, to the collection; yet if it were to confine its efforts and its expenditures to this goal, it should probably end up with a fine prestige collection of exhibit material." "Thus,"Mr. Cumming said, "we have tried to acquire the bulk of the material that falls between the high spots. In this way we have succeeded in building what is proving to be a useful research library." To emphasize this need for balance, during his years as director Cumming made sure that each meeting of the Board of Governors included a numerical summary of items obtained since the last meeting as well as a list and a description of the "treasures" most recently acquired. The library collected material comprehensively, both treasures to be cherished and items of limited interest in themselves.

Planning for growth, however, proved more challenging than Cumming perhaps originally assumed. Expanding a historical collection was more complicated than simply appropriating sufficient money to obtain an accepted canon of "significant"acquisitions while backfilling less important but necessary volumes to make the collection comprehensive. It was not simply a matter of money either. As John Cumming would write, after serving many years as director,

"There is also an element of luck in the building of a rare book library and historical collection. One does not start the year with a plan to acquire certain basic items during that period, simply because the rare books desired may never appear in that year or subsequent years." Still, when a coveted rare item did appear, money did matter. Increasing the Library's holdings often involved money, "a good deal of money"in the phrase of Howard Peckham. On the occasion of the Clarke's twenty-fifth anniversary, John Cumming, reflecting on the role of money, and the occasional lack of it, or the library's growth wrote, "the staff divides its reminiscing into two activities, one, sitting in smug self-satisfaction gloating over the rare books and pamphlets acquired for a pittance which now demand exorbitant prices in the market, and two, weeping over the collections which were passed up because they were considered too expensive."

In the end money could not be an unending resource and judgment played the most important role in the collection's growth. To the credit of the library and its collection, the staff usually chose well. But no one is perfect. As Cumming puckishly noted, "In some instances we were extremely competent in our foresight; but there are also a few instances which we do not care to discuss."Fortunately for the Library, the staff's competence in acquisitions far outweighed those occasions better left unmentioned.

Moving to a New Home: The Park Library Building

The space originally provided in the Library building for the Clarke material quickly proved inadequate. As early as 1962 the Clarke staff was reporting to the Board of Governors and to university officials that a "space problem"existed. The situation became so severe that the director's office was outfitted with steel shelving and pressed into service as a storage area. Subsequently an annex was made available to house material. But space remained a critical problem.

Although talk had begun in 1963 about constructing a new library building on campus, it took several years for the necessary construction funds to be forthcoming. By 1966, however, planning was well under way for a new library. The Clarke Library was to be located on the fourth floor of the proposed new building, with approximately four times as much space as it had enjoyed in the original Library building. In the new building the Clarke was allocated considerable storage space with special rooms created for the book collection, archives, manuscripts, maps and prints, and a vault for particularly valuable material. The public would use the library's many volumes in a handsomely appointed reading room. But pride was most obviously expressed over the newly constructed exhibit area, which was described as the "piece de resistance"of the new space. The new exhibit area would make possible long-hoped for exhibits of library material, which were seen as an important way to advance the library's future. In the waning days of 1968 the Clarke Library moved from its original location to its new home on the fourth floor of the Park Library Building.

 

The Passage of Time and The Maturation of Programs

With the passage of time, and the move into new quarters, the Library's core activities matured and changed. Exhibits were one of the great beneficiaries of the new quarters. Dr. Clarke himself had noted the potential importance of exhibits early in the library's history, but space restrictions in the old library building had greatly limited the Clarke's ability to mount exhibits. In contrast, the new building included a space designed specifically for exhibits. The staff was quick to exploit this opportunity, installing an exhibition of Michigan birds eye views as the inaugural exhibit and investing considerable effort into an ongoing string of subsequent shows, which always highlighted some aspect of the rapidly expanding collection.

One of the most lasting changes was the implementation of a microfilming program. In the early 1960s the library took part in a cooperative venture to film Michigan newspapers. When that effort came to an end, the Clarke staff began to explore ways by which the Library might be able to continue preserving Michigan newspapers on film. Beginning in 1964, various agencies were approached for funds to purchase a microfilm camera and create an operating budget that would sustain the project for five years.

In the summer of 1965, the Kresge Foundation offered $20,000 toward the project, provided the Clarke could raise an additional $30,000 by the end of 1966. The University quickly promised $10,000 towards the purchase, but finding the remaining money proved challenging. By late 1965, John Cumming reported that he was "disheartened"by the challenges involved in raising the necessary funds. But he did not give up, and, in the end, the money was donated. In October 1967 a newly acquired microfilm camera went into operation. The project was quickly preserving approximately 1,100 pages of newspapers per day. Over time the Clarke Library's microfilm program would prove one of its most important contributions to state history.

With so much activity going on, the need for a cash reserve grew ever more apparent to all those involved in the library's growth. In 1976 discussion began to focus on establishing an "emergency fund"for the Library. As seed money for this project, Dr. Clarke offered a $10,000 pledge, provided an additional $10,000 could be raised. This approach fit well into a broader university planned project that would create a number of "matching"gift opportunities on campus. Private donations to various programs would be matched dollar for dollar as an incentive toward giving. Thus, Dr. Clarke's gift of seed money was embraced by the Board and by the University. Four years later an endowment was created to support the library's work. Much of the emergency fund money served as the endowment's original principal.

The Close of The Cumming Era

"Yesterday was twenty-one years ago." John Cummings wrote in the final annual report he authored as the library director for the years 1981-1982. In reflecting on those twenty-one years, Cumming had much to say. He acknowledged the generosity of Dr. Clarke, but he also pointed out the highlights of his own work in expanding the collection. His comments are worth recalling at some length as they take the measure of the library at the closing of an important cycle of growth.

As the library grew in size, certain collections began to develop which in themselves became notable. Early visitors to the Midwest came from the East and from abroad during the early part of the nineteenth century. They returned home to write accounts of their observations and experiences. For the adventurous souls these travel narratives were exciting reading, for they told about a land that was strange and little known to them, and some of these books stimulated a desire to emigrate. Thus these books are important not only for the record of the past which they preserve but also for the influence they exert. Fortunately, the Clarke Historical Library started at an early date to add to this collection and can now boast an outstanding collection. . . .

Among Dr. Clarke's original collection were a number of Richard imprints, books and broadsides printed on the press brought to Detroit by Father Gabriel Richard of Site. Anne's Church. Dr. Clarke's Richard collection was one of the best anywhere. These precious books and broadsides from the cradle years of printing in Detroit form the nucleus of the Michigan Imprints collection [books published in Michigan before 1851]. . . . In the past twenty years the Clarke Historical Library has moved into a position among the leaders in holdings of Michigan Imprints with a collection of more than three hundred items….

In a few years, it was discovered that collections were emerging which were not actually planned; they were, in effect, asserting themselves. One such collection consists of the published reminiscences of itinerant preachers who were in the vanguard of the settlement of the Midwest. Many of these volumes are treasure troves of information about pioneer life. The Clarke Historical Library has accumulated a large and significant collection of this type of literature. . . . .

The collection of lithographed views of Michigan cities and towns has won widespread attention. Now consisting of sixty different lithographs, this collection is the largest in the state. In the nineteenth century these prints enjoyed a half century of popularity. An itinerant artist visited a town, made sketches, and solicited orders for a birds eye view of the town. Returning to his studio, he transferred the sketches to a perspective map, making what appeared to be an aerial view of the community. Fashionable until the early years of this century, the prints lost favor and were consigned to the attic. At first when we started collecting them, these prints could be acquired for a few dollars. Now the few copies which occasionally appear on the market command priced in the hundreds of dollars.....

The manuscript collection which once could be measured in a specific number of pieces is now considered in feet; and it would take considerable calculation to come up with a reasonably close estimate of the number of pieces of manuscripts. But there are stellar items which linger in our memory: The Abel Bingham papers, the Journal of the Borough of Michilimackinac, A Civil War dispatch book, James J. Strange letters, five California gold rush diaries, the Douglass Houghton filed notes, Lewis Cass letters, the Amos and Ebeneezer Gould papers, and again the list goes on and on.

There are memories of the acquisition of rare and valuable books such as the Maxwell Code, the first book printed in the Old Northwest. Lafitau's Moeurs des Sauvages, rare Strangite pamphlets, the Scripps' Lincoln campaign biography, Howe's A French Homestead in the Old Northwest, and many others. . . .

Finally, there are memories of the Lucile Clarke Memorial Children's Library which Dr. Clarke presented to the University in 1971. Consisting originally of 2,300 volumes, it now numbers in excess of 4,500 and includes important collections of books printed in the United States prior to 1821, the Peter Parley to Penrod collection, Sunday School and courtesy books, works by major illustrators, and Princess Beatrice's personal copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland presented to her by Lewis Carroll..

John Comming's years as director saw a remarkable growth in the library's holdings, largely made possible by his skill as a collector and publicist. While Comming was gracious in his acknowledgments of the continued generosity and interest of Dr. Clarke as well as Howard the help given him by the library's staff, Cumming's own contributions toward the library's maturation were extraordinary. Gerald Elliott, chairman of the Clarke Library's Board of Governors expressed this sense that the right person had led the Clarke for so many years.

That the collection has, in so short a time, become one of the truly important historical libraries of Michigan- indeed, of the entire Midwest-can be attributed in large part to your comprehensive knowledge of the field in which you were working, and to the tireless efforts you have exerted in pursuing the Library's avowed goals....

You most certainly were the right man in the right place at the right time.

Elliot's praise for Cumming was heartfelt, but left out one characteristic for which John was also well known- his sense of humor. Several stories capture his ability to enjoy a joke, but none more so than a memorable moment with staff member Bill Miles

John and Bill had been granted a half-hour of radio time each week on WCMU to do a show about Michigan history. As the weeks marched on, filling the air time became more of a challenge. One week, John decided to create a litany of Michigan place names, taking his listeners from Paris to Paradise. All well and good, but what he failed to mention to Bill was how he planned to end the list. As the litany drew to a close John finished with the unexpected words, "and you Bill Miles, can go to Hell."Hell, Michigan, of course. Miles was caught speechless. As each second of dead airtime passed, Bill claimed John's smile grew broader. One never knew when or how John would plan a joke.

Over twenty-one years, John Cumming built and publicized a grand and great library, and had more than a little fun doing it. But the time had come for him to step down. As he himself said, "I am going home to play with my toys. I have a mountain of books to read, a few things to write, many places to visit."

Building on a Strong Foundation: Looking Forward

third director. Dr. Mulligan had received a doctorate in American social history from Clark University and had previous experience as the assistant to the director of regional economic history at the Eleutherian Mill-Hagley Foundation in Wilmington, Delaware. He had come to Central Michigan University in 1982, as an assistant professor of history.

One of Mulligan's major accomplishments was the creation of the Michigan Historical Review. The Michigan Historical Review was born to fill a gap created by a change in another publication. Beginning in 1917 the state had printed Michigan History. For generations, this venerable publication served as an outlet for new scholarship about Michigan's past. In 1978, however, budgetary concerns in Lansing led to a change of format in Michigan History. The journal moved away from its scholarly roots to become a source for popular history. The change made Michigan History one of the most read outlets of local history, but it left Michigan without a journal in which scholarly, historical publications could appear.

Although the change in format was a popular success, it was greeted with unhappiness within the scholarly community and among those interested in advancing the scholarly infrastructure of knowledge that supports popular history. The Clarke Board of Governors, recognizing the problem, voted to protest the changes. But realizing the protest was likely futile, the Board also authorized Mulligan to take "appropriate steps"to insure that the state did have a scholarly journal.

Filling this void took years of hard work but Mulligan eventually accomplished the difficult task the Board had set for him. In the spring of 1986 a partnership between the Clarke Library, the CMU History Department, and the Historical Society of Michigan led to the publication of the first number of the Michigan Historical Review. Filled with footnotes rather than color photography, the Review would never rival the revamped Michigan History in circulation, but it would serve a vital purpose in moving forward the cause of scholarship.

Mulligan was also instrumental in reinvigorating the library's microfilm program, which had fallen dormant. Mulligan aggressively sought to implement a new business model through which the program could be funded. In the past the program had largely relied on grant funding to pay for filming. Mulligan worked with local groups helping them raise funds to pay for the filming. The Clarke's microfilming project moved away from dependency on grant-funding agencies and became community-based, with local residents committed to the filming of their community's newspapers raising the necessary funds to make filming possible within the Clarke. Thus the library was able to preserve thousands of pages of Michigan newspapers.

Collecting, of course, continued. Some of the more important additions included:

  • James Fenimor Coopers's The Oak Openings (1848), which was the author's last forest romance and is set in the partly wooded prairies of west Michigan, "the garden of America" in Cooper's words.
  • Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, Histoire et Description Generale de la Nouvelle France, (Paris, 1744) one of the landmark books describing the Great Lakes.
  • Rev. F. Gabriel Sagard Theodat, Le Grand Voyage du Pays des Hurons, based on his missionary experiences among the Huron Indians, which began in 1624.
  • Over 180 pop-up and action books to supplement the Lucile Clarke Memorial Children's Library.
  • The Northwestern Lumberman, from 1876 to 1898. The paper is one of the leading trade publications documenting the lumber industry.
  • Reed T. Draper's Angling Collection composed of some 1,800 volumes about fishing.
  • Walter Nickels Papers: Nickels was a naturalist, and his material included extensive correspondence with George Washington Carver.

Books and other materials, both highly praised and quietly important as "connecting material", continued to flow into the stacks.

 

The Troubles

From the earliest days of the library, the vision of the library's mission held by University officials was not fully congruent with the vision of Dr. Clarke. Where Dr. Clarke often stressed the development of a library heavily if not exclusively dedicated to research, university officers sought a broader resource for the school's students and faculty. This distinction led John Cummings to work very consciously toward meeting the expectations of both the University and Dr. Clarke, by building, in his words, "two libraries in one."He said, "We have built two collections, one for advanced research in history and one for undergraduate study."

But the juggling required maintaining two libraries in one was always a difficult and time consuming task. Disagreements regarding the library's mission arose during Coming's tenure as director and became more pointed after his retirement. Dr. Clarke, Sr.'s, death in 1984 also exacerbated the troubles. By the late 1980s sharp opinions divided many of those responsible for the library's well being. The library's staff found itself in a difficult position. Bill Mulligan resigned in 1989.

 

A New Beginning in a New Home: Revitalizing the library in Spirit and Place

After much concern over the Clarke, a new University administration under President Leonard Plachta, and the Board of Governors under the leadership of William Strickler, each took steps to restore harmony, and the troubles grew less important. As part of the effort to move forward a new director, Dr. Frank Boles, was hired in 1991. Boles came to CMU from the University of Michigan, the institution that had awarded him a doctorate in American labor history. He had also served for many years as an archivist at the Bentley Historical Library and as an instructor in archival administration within UM's School of Information. Boles was given a mandate both by the university and the Board to focus on the future. And the future was rich with possibilities.

One of the most exciting possibilities was a third home for the library. New space was desperately needed. The library's old home, on the fourth floor of the Park Library building, had been completely filled. The crisis had begun in early 1979, "the year in which it rained manuscripts."

For two days in January 1979 the staff carried in boxes representing the congressional career of Senator Robert Griffin. First elected to Congress in 1956, Griffin had been appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy created by the death of Patrick McNamara. Six months later he was elected to the office in his own right and he won re-election in 1972. In his years in Washington D.C. Griffin gathered more than 1,500 boxes of material; all of which arrived at the Clarke in January 1979. The records represented the career of one of Central Michigan University's most distinguished alumni. The documents were an intellectual treasure but a storage nightmare. The only way to accommodate this mass of material was to relocate other, less important material into off-site storage. For the next decade whenever a major acquisition was considered the immediate question was "Where will be put it?

In January 1997 the University issued a Program Statement for the Library Addition and Renovation at Central Michigan University. This document, more than five years in the making, served as the touchstone for the $50 million construction and renovation project that was to follow. The Program Statement called for 18,220 square feet of space to be given over to the Clarke. While the amount of space in the plan was not substantially larger than the space already occupied by the library, the inclusion of compact shelving into virtually all of the storage areas led to the doubling of available shelf space.

Planning for new construction led to interesting questions. Where, for example, where should the Clarke Library be located? The old location on the fourth floor of the Park Library building had the virtue of exclusiveness but was hard to find. After considerable discussion, a decision was made to place the Clarke on the first floor "corridor"of the renovated building, an area dubbed "the cultural corridor." The decision to use this highly trafficked space to highlight the library was premised on the creation of exhibits of a quality found in a nationally ranked historical or art museum.

Planning also required flexibility. As drafts of floor plans were prepared, spaces moved and relationships between areas changed. Progress was rapid and sometimes startling. One of the most significant examples was the shape of the Molson exhibit gallery, which was radically redesigned over a stressful three-week period. Originally drawn as a rectangle, in mid-January 1998 a cost-saving decision to relocate the interior columns supporting the building resulted in four huge blocks of concrete suddenly appearing in the exhibit area.

In a less-than-happy meeting between Boles and the architects, Boles said the columns had to go but was told that moving the columns was not an option- the building would collapse without them. It was a moment that called for great inventiveness, and the architects quickly realized that the problem needed speedy resolution. A few days later the architects faxed to Boles a proposed solution to the problem. The exhibit room was redesigned as an octagon, giving the room an interesting shape that was based on the functional need to conceal the columns. As Boles wrote to Larry O'Connor of Wollen-Molzan & Partners, "The octagon-shaped exhibit area took a bit of getting used to,"but once he adjusted to the idea , Boles added appreciatively, "the octagon is pretty cool."

In the summer of 1999, construction began on the octagon-shaped exhibit area as well as the rest of the renovated and enlarged Park Library building. Construction could not begin, however, until the building was largely vacated and the Clarke relocated approximately one-half-mile south, in the "Turfed Room"of the Rose Building. Built as an indoor athletic practice area, converting the Turf Room into a functioning library space presented several major challenges to both engineers from CMU's Facilities Management and the Clarke Library staff. In June 1999, despite work that still needed to be completed, the move began.

The process had its difficulties. As the move began, the air conditioning in the Turf Room was "almost finished."Wiring for computers and telephones had been installed and, while the phone worked, the internet links back to the computerized card catalog did not. The Clarke Library's first full day in the Turf Room witnessed the reference librarian phoning the University Library reference desk, still housed in the Park Library, asking for call numbers and other vital information found in the catalog. Microfilm readers were not scheduled to be moved for days. Naturally a researcher arrived at 8:15 am wishing to use microfilm. Delaying the move was, unfortunately, impossible. Workers with jack hammers literally in hand stood in the Clarke's old stacks where temporary ventilation shafts needed to be built as soon as possible.

For thirty months the Clarke functioned "in exile" while the Park Library building was completely rebuilt and enlarged. In October 2001 the "long march"to Rose was reversed and the material and staff began the half-mile trip back to their new home. This too was not without incident. The hardwood floor in the exhibit area was not yet complete, but like the move out, the calendar dictated that the books begin to depart Rose. For the first few weeks work to complete the exhibit area floor cut off director, the departmental secretary, and the staff of the Michigan Historical Review from their office. All of these staff found themselves in "the bullpen," a temporary work area set up in the Manuscripts processing room. Work on the exhibit area floor also made it impossible for researchers to use the library's main entrance. Researchers found their way to the reading room by following a trail of paper signs leading them into the Clarke through a propped open fire exit. Eventually, however, the work on the exhibit area and the rest of the building was completed. In January 2002 the new building opened to the public with the Clarke proudly located on the first floor.

 

A New Home: A Reconsidered Mission

The excitement of a new building was preceded and followed by hard work on the part of the staff and the Library's Board of Governors to best position the library to benefit from the new space and move forward into the future. One of the Board of Governors' most important exercises was to review the Library's overall goals and adopt, in 1995, a revised collecting policy and service objective:

The Clarke Historical Library exists to document

  • The history of Michigan and the Old Northwest Territory
  • Published works that shaped the minds of young children, including both educational texts and children's fiction
  • The history of Central Michigan University

The library seeks to make the documentation collected in these three areas available to those who use the library, with a particular emphasis on scholarly users, users from the Central Michigan University community, and members of the communities served by CMU.

Moving forward required reexamining past tools. Lectures were deemphasized as other units on the CMU campus took up this type of public programming. Monographic publications, which early in the library's history had been recognized as a difficult program to sustain, were abandoned in favor of using the Michigan Historical Review as the primary means through which the library would aid scholarship. Despite this decision, when the situation warranted, the library undertook the publication of monographs.

Two important examples of this were the Native American bibliography and the Papers of the Governors of Michigan Project. Native Americans in Michigan: A Bibliography of Material in the Clarke Historical Library, compiled by Evelyn Leasher, was published in 1996. Because of the comprehensive and wide- ranging nature of the Clarke's Native-American collections, the work has served as an important checklist for virtually any researcher interested in the Chippewa, Potawatomi, or Odawa. The Papers of the Governor's of Michigan Project came about because of the vision of President Leonard Plachta, who charged the Clarke to "fill the gap"created because the state had ceased publishing the papers of Michigan's governors with the close of Alexander Groesbeck's term of office in 1927. In 2003, Messages of the Governors of Michigan appeared in print. The first three volumes document the words of Michigan's governors from Fred Green through G. Mennen Williams.

In many ways, however, the dissemination of information through book publication was supplanted by a new technology- the world wide web. The library's staff came to realize the importance of this technology in promoting both history and the library itself. Although the web was no direct substitute for either scholarly journals or scholarly publications, it opened an exciting and dynamic tool through which to reach out to the public. In 1996 the Clarke Historical Library website was unveiled. The site quickly expanded and became a significant resource. A series of exhibits, detailed bibliographies, and a number of full-text publications all made their appearance on the site. In 1999 the American Association of State and Local History recognized the importance of the Clarke's website by awarding it a Certificate of Merit.

The new exhibit space required a renewed emphasis on exhibits. Because of the prime location on one of the busiest interior hallways on campus and the objective of presenting exhibits that would rival those at nationally recognized museums, exhibits became larger and more involved than those in the recent past. As Board of Governor's member Robert Warner put it, "the exhibit space is a blessing and a curse: a blessing to have so that the collection could be showcased and a curse because it would need to be filled with exhibits worthy of that space."

Developing the expertise to create such exhibits was not an easy task. As planning for the first exhibit began, the staff realized it needed outside help. A consultant from the Cranbrook Institute of Arts and Sciences in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was brought on board to plan and construct the exhibit and teach the staff how a major institution undertakes exhibit planning and construction. Both the consultant and the staff had a steep learning curve: the consultant in moving the staff beyond its library-based prejudices and the staff in learning to let go and learn. The staff also endeavored to create exhibit catalogs, as a lasting memento of exhibits as well as a serious resource through which individuals interested in the exhibit's topics could learn more about the works displayed.

"The Fine Art of Illustrating for Children: Art from the collection of Francis and Mary Lois Molson,"opened the new gallery space to the public. Featuring original art drawn for publication in children's books, the exhibit highlighted how such art is simultaneously a thing of beauty, a vehicle through which children are enticed into the world of reading, and a marketing tool for publishers. The exhibit also commemorated the generous gift of this art to the Clarke Library by Francis and Mary Lois Molson, for whom one of the Clarke's two exhibit galleries is named. Perhaps most importantly from the staff's perspective, all the pieces had come together. The staff had struggled. The staff had learned. The staff had proved they could create very high quality exhibits to meet the expectations created by the new space.

Subsequent exhibits explored various themes of state and local history. A Lighthouse exhibit explored the history of Michigan's lighthouses. It featured the aerial photography of John Wagner and was mounted with the support of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper's Association. "Hemingway in Michigan: Michigan in Hemingway,"mounted in conjunction with the Michigan Hemingway Society, examined the influence of Ernest Hemingway's boyhood summers on Walloon Lake on his subsequent writing. "Native American Treaty Signers in the Great Lakes Region,"explored the lives and significant diplomatic skills of tribal leaders who negotiated treaties with the government of the United States in the 1820s. The exhibit featured twenty-two color lithographs printed in 1835 and 1836 by J. O. Lewis, the artist who painted the images from which the lithographs were made.

 

Funding the Library: A Renewed Emphasis Outside Support

As the Library's new home began to emerge, a new emphasis on outside funding also developed. Despite the best efforts of the university, increasingly the library, as well as many other aspects of university operations, required additional funds in order to be successful. The interest in outside funding that developed with the new building was not unique in the Library's history. At the time of the library's founding there had been recognition that outside funds were critical to the library's success. But in the 1990s private giving and grant support blossomed. Between 1993 and 2004 federal agencies awarded the Clarke close to $900,000 in grant funds. Annual gift-giving grew, climbing from a few thousand dollars in fiscal year 1991-1992 to more than $17,000 in fiscal year 2003-2004. Endowment support also grew.

The purpose of outside funding was, of course, to support core activities. Collecting, remained at the core of the Library's goals. Collecting, however, began to subtly change. The past success of the library in finding riches made locating additional treasures difficult. The number of eighteenth century French publications describing the Great Lakes region or the number of Michigan imprints published before 1851 is a large, but known quantity of material. Increasingly, the richness of the library's holdings made finding rare items more challenging. Despite the challenge "rarities" were found.

Highlights from the decade included:

  • The "Woodward Code,"Michigan Territory's second fundamental law, largely drafted by Augustus Woodward in 1805 and published in 1806.
  • The 1920 and 1930 individual census returns for Michigan.
  • Documentation of the oil and gas industry including the Michigan Oil and Gas News from 1932 to the present, and the photographic collection of Norm Lyons, longtime editor of the MOGN.
  • Substantially increasing the library's holdings of fictional works set in Michigan, including the first fictional volume that included a Michigan setting, Samuel Woodworth's, Champions of Freedom, published in 1816.
  • Federspiel Hemingway Collection, documenting the life and works of Ernest Hemingway with a focus on his years in Michigan and their impact on his literature
  • The donation of over 430 children's series books including the Hardy Boys and Cheri Ames, Nurse.
  • The records of Bay City's Aladdin Company, one of the nation's premier manufacturers of kit homes.
  • The Francis and Mary Lois Molson collection of original art drawn to illustrate children's publications, representing a resource of tremendous value in documenting the illustration of children's literature.
  • A collection of exemplary illustrated children's books, including those winning the American Library Association Caldecott Award and nominees for the International Board for Books on Youth's Hans Christian Andersen award.
  • Maureen Hathaway Culinary Archive, a collection of approximately 2,000 Michigan cookbooks

And into the Future

After fifty years of collecting, of serving both students and scholars, of educating the public through exhibits, publications, presentations, and good advice freely offered to those who ask, the Clarke Historical Library has become one of Michigan's great resources. Well-served by its Board of Governors, its staff, and Central Michigan University, which has supported it in good times and bad, it has risen to the high aspirations hoped for by the Library's founder, Norman Clarke, Sr. As he said at the library's dedicatory ceremonies:

It is my prayer that those who now assume custodianship of this infant beginning will cause it to grow in stature, and by unselfish and intelligent application, make it a stimulating force in historically orienting both students and instructors.

Dr. Clarke's prayer of so many years ago has been well-answered. The Library has grown. Those who have been associated with it have given unselfishly and thoughtfully to direct that growth in an intelligent direction. The Library has stimulated many to write good history. Together, we have accomplished many goals, and by continuing to work together we will ensure that the future of the Clarke Historical Library remains bright with promise.


1 Dr. Norman E Clarke, Sr, dedication remarks, December 8, 1956, Clarke Historical Library (CHL) Archives.

2 Dr. Norman E. Clarke Sr., unpublished autobiography.

3 Dr. Norman E. Clarke Sr., unpublished autobiography.

4 Dr. Norman E. Clarke Sr., unpublished autobiography.

5 Dr. Norman E. Clarke Sr., unpublished autobiography.

6 Dr. Norman E. Clarke Sr., unpublished autobiography.

7 Dr. Norman E. Clarke Sr., unpublished autobiography.

8 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library, 1979-1980, (Mt. Pleasant: Clarke Historical Library, 1980) p. 2.

9 Howard Peckham, dedication remarks, December 8, 1956. CHL Archives.

10 Deed of Gift signed by Norman E. Clarke, Sr. and C.L. Anspach, February 2, 1954.

11 Dr. Charles Anspach, Minutes of the CHL Board of Governors, August 15, 1958.

12 Minutes of the CHL Board of Governors, September 24, 1958.

13 Minutes of the CHL Board of Governors, March 4, 1959.

14 Minutes of the CHL Board of Governors, September 24, 1958

15 Minutes of the CHL Board of Governors, August 15, 1958

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Board Minutes, March 4, 1959.

20 Board minutes, May 3, 1961.

21 Board minutes May 3, 1961.

22 Board Minutes, January 11, 1967.

23 Board Minutes, September 18, 1963

24 Board Minutes, January 6, 1965.

25 Board Minutes, May 17, 1969.

26 Board Minutes, January 17, 1962.

27 Board Minutes, January 17, 1962.

28 Board Minutes, May 24, 1967.

29 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library, 1981-9982, p. 3.

30 Howard Peckham, dedication remarks, December 8, 1956, CHL Archives.

31 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library, 1979-1980, p. 3.

32 Ibid.

33 Board Minutes, September 19, 1962.

34 Board Minutes, January 9, 1963.

35 Board Minutes, May 12, 1965.

36 Board Minutes, September 28, 1966.

37 Board Minutes, April 27, 1968.

38 Board Minutes, September 18, 1963.

39 Board Minutes, February 16, 1969.

40 Board Minutes, September 23, 1964; April 27, 1968.

41 Board Minutes, September 22, 1965.

42 Board Minutes, January 26, 1966.

43 Board Minutes, September 28, 1966.

44 Board Minutes, January 20, 1968.

45 Board Minutes, September 20, 1969.

46 Board Minutes, February 12, 1977.

47 Board Minutes, August 14, 1982.

48 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University, 1981-1982 (Mount Pleasant,: Clarke Historical Library, 1982).

49 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University, 1981-1982 (Mount Pleasant: Clarke Historical Library, 1982).

50 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University, 1981-1982 (Mount Pleasant,: Clarke Historical Library, 1982).

51 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University, 1981-1982 (Mount Pleasant,: Clarke Historical Library, 1982).

52 Gerald A Elliott to John Coming, November 12, 1982.

53 "State of the Library Report,"(undated) delivered by John Coming on the occasion of his retirement to the Clarke Historical Library Board of Governors.

54 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University, 1982-1984. (1984).

55 Board Minutes, October 19, 1978.

56 Editor's Page, Michigan Historical Review 12 (Spring 1986): 95. The first issue of the Review was numbered volume 12 because it continued under a new name the Great Lakes Review, a literary and cultural journal, of which eleven volumes had been previously published.

57 State of the Library Report,"(undated) delivered by John Coming on the occasion of his retirement to the Clarke Historical Library Board of Governors.

58 Frank Boles biographical statement.

59 Annual Report of the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University 1978-1979

60 Board Minutes October 19, 1978.

61 Program Statement for the Library Addition and Renovation at Central Michigan University, Approved by Leonard E. Plachta, President (Mt. Pleasant, January 1997).

62 Memo, Frank Boles to Larry O'Connor, February 16, 1998.

63 Board Minutes, July 21, 1995

64 Dr. Norman E. Clarke, Sr., Dedicatory Remarks of the Clarke Historical Library, December 1956. ​​