Finding State Gems in Michigan

Finding State Gems in Michigan

Technically, the state of Michigan has had a state gem since 1973: the Isle Royale Greenstone, named after Michigan’s only national park: Isle Royale. (Some would argue that it’s Fordite, the faux stone created in mid-20th century automotive spray booths when layers of overspray were chipped away, but that’s a story for another day.)

But over the last week, I’ve realized that my state has many more treasures than I realized. I’m a Michigan native, a graduate of its public schools, and my degrees are Michigan universities. How is it that I’ve missed so much about my own state?

Right now, as part of the IMLS-funded Making in Michigan Libraries project, I’ve had the pleasure of making calls across the state to the eight libraries we’ll be visiting this summer for three days of maker professional development for educators, librarians, scout leaders, Boys and Girls Club leaders, 4H, robotics programs, and others interested in developing capacity in maker skills; community spirit; nurturing activities; stimulating extracurricular committees; etc. We’ll be announcing their dates soon — just a few more calls to go!

But what does this have to do with gems? It’s what I’ve been learning about the maker movement through the eyes of communities smaller and different from my own.

Two librarians have shared with excitement how they would like to involve farmers market vendors as cottage industry makers. Talk about an angle we don’t hear about from larger suburban and urban libraries! And what a valuable lens to consider. After all, many farmers market feature handmade making that is a real business over time. Whether it’s wreaths, jellies, jewelry, soap, or more, these folks have passions and perspectives to share.

Some of our communities are excited about involving their school robotics teams (Michigan has more than any other state due, in part, to the financial support of our governor and local mentors). One wants to connect 3D printing to local industry. One site’s local industry is decidedly analog, which brings time-honored traditions that are sustainable without digital infrastructure.

What strikes me the most is the librarians themselves: how well they know their communities, how proud they are of community achievements, how eager they are to show off those points of pride. And it is a reminder to me of the powered network that libraries represent. Whether a town has 1800 or 1.8 million residents, there’s a library and someone who is rooting for their community.

In this political campaigning season, it’s easy to be swept up in the rhetoric of finger-pointing, blame, exclusion, and negative language. It’s reassuring to know that despite it all, our civic fabric is woven with librarians who continue to advocate and labor for the betterment of all.

We can’t wait to move the conversation from calendar to workshop content and to unveil our summer profesional development schedule in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Kristin Fontichiaro

Image: “File:Michigan_90.jpg” from the Perry-Castenada Library Map Collection,courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin. Public Domain.

Cross-posted to the Active Learning blog

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