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Michigan’s innovative electronic library is toasted in the state capital
Long before anyone had heard of Google or Yahoo or Amazon, Michigan’s State Librarian George Needham was tinkering with an idea from the University of Michigan: a small project that showed promise as a vehicle for providing statewide distribution of information through something new called the Internet. At the same time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had begun a program to fund computer labs for libraries and schools and affordable online access was about to go nationwide with a program called the e-rate. Looking back, Needham says it was a “perfect storm” of opportunity that was seized with the Michigan eLibrary. MeL for short, the 20th Anniversary of this pioneering statewide information network was celebrated at a gala event that gathered hundreds on October 4 at the stunning Library of Michigan and Historical Center.
Innovative from its inception, MeL has been a pace-setting resource for Michigan's schools, libraries and residents ever since. Full of free premium databases that support homework, small businesses, job search, and more, MeL has often been a model for other state library systems. PC Magazine's John Dvorak claimed MeL was "an astonishing site. It puts Michigan at the top of the heap for providing its citizens with an amazing information portal far superior to most commercial sites. It makes you want to move to Michigan (well, almost)."
The Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning have been equally impressed. Earlier this year the group presented MeL with its President’s Award for outstanding contribution to further the use of technology in education. Superintendent Mike Flanagan, who leads the Michigan Department of Education where MeL and the Library of Michigan make their home, sees MeL as pivotal to providing educators with the kinds of resources that can help students build bright futures. Its 24/7 schedule and ability to be accessed from campus or home, makes it more convenient for educators and kids. “MeL resources are authoritative, they’re reliable and they include full-text articles from magazines, journals and newspapers,” he says.
Indeed, MeL’s centerpiece collection of premium databases – supports a million full-text article retrievals each year, producing a savings of more than $72 million annually over the cost of individual library subscriptions -- $21.80 of value for every dollar spent on MeL annually. Teachers can rely on MeL for access to specialty journals, counselors can access practice college entrance exams and there are even foreign language databases. “MeL databases are especially rich in content and suited for K12 education. The best thing is these databases have already been vetted. It’s not just surfing the ‘net,” according to Flanagan.
What’s ahead? Governor Rick Snyder’s 2012-13 budget includes a $800,000 increase.
Robertson has big plans for the new funding. “Thanks to this new state funded boost to MeL, we plan on adding a business and jobs database, possibly an early literacy database; we are revamping the MeL frontpage and website and will be incorporating a Google-like single-search box for easier use of MeL going forward. There is still lots to do to keep it going and growing!”