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Off the beaten path: Libraries at University of Michigan

Visitors look at a collection on display in the Clements Library reading room (Credit: Michigan Photo Services)

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ANN ARBOR – If you think you’ve seen all there is to see in Ann Arbor, look a little harder at the libraries on campus at the University of Michigan.

Most people walk right past these monuments to knowledge every day without a second glance, thinking they’re only for faculty and students – but many of these libraries have tons to offer to the general public if only we would stop and look!

You can pass a quiet afternoon or disappear the whole day in a library, reading about the history of film, learning to use a printing press, poring over an ancient map or even playing video games from the past and present.

Keep reading for more about the rich collections, fascinating events, and state-of-the-art resources these libraries have to offer.

U-M Library System Facilities

The main U-M library system is vast, with winding stacks of books, documents, and resources sprawled all over campus – and there is much to be discovered if you know where to look - and if you don’t, ask a librarian!

The University of Michigan is a public university, so most library facilities are open to the public during regular hours. Reference services are always available to anyone on-site and online, and computer and printing services are available as well. Let’s take a closer look at two particularly exciting libraries: The Hatcher Graduate Library and the Duderstadt Center.

The Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library

Don’t be fooled by the name, all are welcome in the Hatcher, graduate student or not. Much like a nesting doll, this immense building is home to many smaller libraries within. Just beyond the lobby you’ll find the first of many Hatcher treasures, John James Audubon’s hand-illustrated collection: The Birds of America.

The very first purchase by the U-M Regents – bought even before a single brick was laid for the university itself – this eight-volume, double-elephant folio edition of original artwork is on permanent display. But the volumes are so enormous, they can’t all be seen at once – a page is turned weekly, revealing the next in a succession of 435 vibrantly illustrated images of birds in the wild, so be sure to visit again and again so you don’t miss a page!

Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Venture upstairs to the Stephen S. Clark Library and change how you see the world. The Clark Library is home to the map collection, government information services, and spatial and numeric data services. From the scholar to the layman, everyone can learn something at the Clark. While the collection is open regularly, visit the Third Thursday Open House after hours and explore specially curated maps, plans, and other materials – there is a new theme monthly.

Further upstairs, the Special Collections Library is home to, as the name suggests, the special and the specialized – among others, you can find the renowned collection of Papyrology, a James Beard commended collection of American culinary history from the 16th century to today, a vast collection of Asian literature, and histories of astronomy, transportation and medicine as well as several cultures.

The Hatcher and the libraries within feature rotating exhibits and events, including documentary film presentations, community gatherings and special collections after-hours events.

The James and Anne Duderstadt Center

Colloquially referred to as “The Dude,” the Duderstadt Center is the largest public computing site at the University of Michigan. Located on North Campus and formerly known as the Media Union, the Duderstadt’s mission is to provide faculty and students with the tools and collaborative space for creating the future. There is, however, plenty for the public to see and do at the Duderstadt.

The Duderstadt Center on U-M's North Campus.

Aside from the publicly available collection of printed and digital materials, there are regular exhibits and events, an engineering materials collection and a printing press workroom that offers regular open studio hours. There is also a delightful café.

The real highlight of the Duderstadt is the Computer and Video Game Archive. Located in the basement of the Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library there is an extensive collection of computer and video games dating from the 1970s to the present, as well as some board games, all available for free on-site play. When not reserved for a class or special event, the CVGA is open to the public – so go and get your game on!

Independent Libraries on Campus

There are also several independently operated libraries on campus, including the William L. Clements Library and the Bentley Historical Library.

The William L. Clements Library

The Clements Library is home to print and manuscript materials featuring the history of North America and the Caribbean, with a focus on 18th- and 19th-century American history. The aim of the Clements is to collect and preserve primary resources – or first-hand accountings of history – for research and scholarly learning. Not only are the collections rich in knowledge, but the library itself is truly a palace for the written word.

"The Death of General Wolfe," over 240 years old and 8.5 feet in width, has been installed with new custom lighting on the oak-paneled walls of the Avenir Foundation Room at the University of Michigan William L. Clements Library. (Photo: Austin Thomason | Michigan Photography)

Read: A glimpse inside University of Michigan’s historic William L. Clements Library

The stately building, featuring stone columns and an intricately sculptured wood reading room, was designed by architect Albert Kahn, who was recorded as saying that the Clements Library was the design for which he most wanted to be remembered. As the primary focus of the Clements is to be a scholarly center, tours of the library and exhibit open hours are only offered to the public on Fridays. The Clements also maintains a regular schedule of lectures and events that are open to all.

Read: Iconic ‘The Death of General Wolfe’ painting back on display at U-M Clements Library

The Bentley Historical Library

If you’re a fan of the University of Michigan or the State of Michigan, you’ll want to visit the Bentley Historical Library.

The Bentley focuses on collecting the materials for and promoting the study of both, and you don’t have to be affiliated with the university to dive deep into its history. From more accessible Michigan history like a scenic postcard collection or U-M paraphernalia to more personal items like student scrapbooks and family histories, the Bentley celebrates the unbreakable bond between our state and our University.

The Bentley is also home to the archives of the U-M Athletic Department if your sportier friends need to be convinced to check out a library. Another division of the library is the Detroit Observatory, currently undergoing renovations. The Bentley’s digital collections are also accessible to anyone online.

Bonus: The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

The Ford Library and Museum complex is the only presidential library to be split into two locations. While the museum is in Grand Rapids, the Ford Library is situated on the U-M campus, a location chosen by President Ford to honor his alma mater. Part of the Presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Ford Library collects, preserves, and makes accessible to the public materials from the Ford presidency and the Cold War era – over 25 million pages of documents and over a half-million audiovisual items, available for on-site research.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor.

If you’re looking for a lighter learning opportunity, spend an hour or two in the public area viewing President Ford’s office as well as exhibits highlighting President and First Lady Betty Ford.

Of course, the richest resources that all of these libraries have to offer can be found in the minds of librarians, curators, and staff. If you don’t know where to find what you’re looking for, what you can find, or even what you should be looking for, you can always Ask A Librarian – they are there for you! Incorporate some lifelong learning into your next visit to Ann Arbor – you never know what the library may have to share with you today.

This story was sponsored by Destination Ann Arbor.