By Joel Thurtell
There are ways of making a buck that can make you a loser.
The Burton Historical Collections at the Detroit Public Library has devised a way to make a buck — actually ten bucks.
But they’ve lost me as a reader.
So big deal, right?
What’s one suburbanite reader more or less? For every malcontent like me, there may be 10 well-heeled readers ready to cough up the charge.
The Burton charges non-city resident readers ten bucks a day to use their materials for research.
I was surprised to learn this. Back in days of yore when I worked for the Detroit Free Press, I never had to pay to do research at the Burton. It didn’t matter then that I lived in Plymouth Township, not the city of Detroit.
I told the desk person my story, and she informed me that under the Burton’s rules, a newspaper writer working on an article doesn’t have to pay the daily fee.
But a member of the general public — like me in my present retired state — has to pay the $10 fee. No matter that I’m doing research for a book or my blog.
I’m still trying to make sense of this policy.
A reporter for a newspaper which presumably is not too strapped for cash to pay the reporter a salary can work in the Burton for free. Very likely, that reporter can even file an expense report and be reimbursed for research costs.
But a retired guy like me, who does not collect a salary from a newspaper, who does not have a company-paid expense account, that researcher has to pay ten bucks a day for the privilege of reading materials that others, regardless of residency, can look at for free.
Ten bucks a day. By itself, the fee adds up. Five days — a week of research — fifty bucks. Then, of course, the City of Detroit charges fees for parking at meters or in parking structures. And there is the cost of gas. My best estimate is that my research at the Burton would cost me at least $20 a day, a hundred a week — and likely more.
Message to the Burton: I am not a newspaper reporter. I am not on salary. I am working on a book. I am just as hungry for knowledge as any salaried newspaper reporter. The acknowledgments page of my book will list the libraries and librarians who helped me with this project.
But that is probably a bit too speculative for you. Instant gratification will not be yours or mine with this project. My book will not appear tomorrow, as would a daily newspaper story.
Oh, I’ve heard the argument about how the Detroit library is hard up for money. So am I. If you’re REALLY so hard up, why let the newspaper reporters off scot free?
Maybe you don’t want to wait a few months or years to receive credit for helping with m project.
Well, then, think of my blog. Joelontheroad.com reaches a handful of readers, or more, and I publish whenever I like. And though JOTR is not a paper newspaper, if you’ve noticed, the old paper papers in Detroit are planning to abandon most of their flammable, inkable medium. Soon, those Detroit Free Press and Detroit News writers may be bloggers just like me.
That’s a good reason why you might not want to place your bets on daily newspapers as a conveyance of publicity, if that is the idea behind letting newspaper reporters escape from your discriminatory $10-a-day fee.
Whatever. I found another library where I can do research all day. I pay for my gas to and from. Parking is free. No daily research charge.
It’s called the Alvin Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. It’sw in Ann Arbor, half the distance I’d travel to and from the Burton. The Bentley has a wonderful collection of books and records about Michigan history — just what I need.
Ten bucks a day?
Drop me a line at joelthurtell(at)gmail.com