Groundhog’s Day has come and gone with a prediction that we have many more weeks of winter ahead. Detroit has a lot to offer its citizens and tourists throughout the year, but it does get frustrating to come up with entertaining activities that also keep you warm. I love the outdoors and strolling through city streets can be fun on its own, but when the windchill hits below 30 degrees I run indoors for a little break from the elements.
The Detroit Public Library has been a staple of the city since 1921. Its Italian Renaissance style is a breathtaking backdrop to 2.5 million volumes of books. It is an interesting building to explore, because it is one part old world, one part museum, and one part hodgepodge of 20th century architecture. In one part of the building you feel like you’re walking onto the set of Mad Men and 40 feet later you’re back in the roaring 1920s. It is a bizarre and brilliant building that everyone metro Detroiter or out-of-town visitor should put on their sightseeing list. Tours take place every weekend morning. Check out the website for times and availability. Tours are free, but they require pre-registration online so that docents can ensure that there are enough staff members present. Tours go over the history of Detroit’s public libraries, architecture of the building, and allow access into rooms that are usually off-limits to the public. I highly suggest it.
The collection of media at the Detroit Public Library is really astounding. I grew up in the age of Encarta and doing book reports that actually required that I look up information in books. I spent a lot of my childhood in libraries and bookstores doing research and homework. I still surround myself with the comfort of real, physical books, but I don’t rely on libraries for research in the same way that I once did. For instance, my family is very into genealogy. We have paper records, but have been attempting to do a lot of research online through ancestry sites and census records. They have been helpful, but they haven’t been able to fill certain holes of information. While we were at the Detroit Public Library, we stumbled upon the genealogy and archive department. There are two stories worth of books that have detailed information about families in particular and counties and countries in general. You can literally spend hours searching for information on your ancestors whether they were born in Europe or have lived in Michigan for generations. (The most extensive collections were for those with Michigan or New England roots.) Some families have their own books that hold lists of family members’ names, birthdates, and locations and nothing more. Others have detailed histories covering family members who made their mark on their city, county, or government. I wasn’t able to find much on my family except for some names and locations in Germany, but I find many books about a friend’s family…including the actual family bible from the 1820s! If you’re a history or genealogy nerd like me, you will feel just like a celebrity on that show “Who Do You Think You Are?” (minus the white gloves 😉 )
So whether it is the draw of books, architecture, history, artwork, or Motown records that has you inspired, make sure to visit and support the Detroit Public Library branches throughout the year. Happy exploring!