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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Francis Blouin

When: January 25, 2024

Francis Blouin
Francis Blouin

In this episode, AADL Talks To Francis Blouin. Francis joined the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library in 1974 and was director for over 30 years. Francis shares his memories of working at the Bentley, some of the special acquisitions and projects he oversaw during his tenure, and he discusses the many transitions he witnessed in the archives field.

Francis is Professor Emeritus in the History Department at the University of Michigan.

Historical articles and photos about the Bentley Historical Library.

 

Transcript

  • [00:00:09] ELIZABETH SMITH: [MUSIC] Hi. This is Elizabeth.
  • [00:00:11] AMY CANTU: This is Amy, and in this episode AADL talks to Francis Blouin. Francis joined the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library in 1974 and served as its director for over 30 years. Francis shares his memories of working at the Bentley and mentions some of the special acquisitions he oversaw during his tenure. He also discusses the many transitions he witnessed in the archives field and his thoughts about its current state and future. Thanks so much for coming, Francis. We would like to just have a little background. Where did you grow up and what brought you to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:00:48] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Well, thank you for having me and I'm delighted to participate in this historical effort. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and stayed there until I went to my undergraduate at Notre Dame. That brought me into the Midwest. I liked it and after Notre Dame, I went up to the University of Minnesota for graduate school in history which is my field. Was interrupted briefly by compulsory military service in Korea during the Vietnam era, went back to Minnesota and finished my coursework for Ph.D, spent a year back in Massachusetts doing research for my dissertation and then it was in the mid-1970s and the job market for historians then much as it is today was not terrific. But I had done some work at the University of Minnesota in an archive project they were working on there and that got me familiar with issues relating to archives and historical documents and so forth. I was not only looking for teaching jobs but I thought to hedge my bets I should also look for jobs in archives. Happily, as it turned out, a position opened up, was advertised for assistant director at the Bentley Library here at Michigan. I applied for that and came out, had an interview and was very excited about it. I remember the director Bob Warner who was famous in historical circles in Michigan and beyond and I thought he would be just a good person to work for. When he called and said he had good news and bad news I was concerned. The bad news was that I didn't get the job but the good news was that the person who did get the job had sabbatical requirements to stay at his university for a year so they had a one-year opening for acting assistant director. I thought I really should just take that and have a year working with Bob Warner and see what it was like. I came out here to take a one-year position at the Bentley Library not knowing where it would go after that and I'm still here.
  • [00:03:30] AMY CANTU: It turned out for you.
  • [00:03:31] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It turned out. Yes.
  • [00:03:35] ELIZABETH SMITH: Did you have an initial event in your life that got you interested in history?
  • [00:03:39] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Well, I think growing up in Massachusetts you're surrounded with so much history. When I was an undergraduate, I had a summer job in the Massachusetts State House in Boston. During my lunch hours in the summer, I would wander through the city and I just absorbed all this history and got excited about it and pursued it as an undergraduate and enjoyed the coursework.
  • [00:04:11] AMY CANTU: What is your particular field of interest?
  • [00:04:13] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Well, I started out being interested -- again because of my Boston background -- being interested in the early 19th century. The period of the Revolution and that was well-trodden. But there was less work being done on the early 19th century and I found that interesting. I was interested in economic history, the growth of the American economy. That of course tied in a little bit with the opening of the Midwest and the development of a national market in the 19th century. Those sorts of questions intrigued me.
  • [00:04:51] ELIZABETH SMITH: When you got to the Bentley, what was your job like? What was it day to day like then?
  • [00:04:56] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It was an administrative job. Bob Warner was very active on a number of fronts, so he was often away and I was in charge of keeping the place going day to day. I worked on publications and that sort of thing.
  • [00:05:19] AMY CANTU: You eventually became the director. Can you talk a little bit about how that happened and what were some of the things you learned in the couple of years prior to that about the Bentley?
  • [00:05:32] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Well, because going from a part-time job to a full-time job was a rather complicated story, again, I talked about long stories. Toward the end of my first year, I was not sure what I was going to do so I was looking around for open positions, and figured I had to go somewhere. But Bob and I, we worked well together and we thought maybe there'd be some opportunity for me to stay at the Bentley. There were a couple of projects that were underway. There was an application for a project to... it was interesting: To look into the question of immigration, the immigrants to Michigan we had a lot of records of immigrants here, in Michigan, church records, letters of family, papers that had been saved by people who lived here. But the question was -- I mean most of the immigrants who came here probably wrote home. Were there sources abroad that would document the immigrant experience as people were writing to their relatives back home? We put together a project where we might send people to countries that sent a lot of immigrants to Michigan -- Ireland, Finland, Poland, I can't remember the other one. Anyway, there were four. We made an application to the National Endowment for the Humanities to maybe do that. Second project was in the area of temperance and prohibition. There's a center of the Anti-Saloon League in America was really in Ohio. But for some reason one of the principal collections was at the Bentley. We talked about number 1, meshing these collections together and microfilming them. In addition, we made connections with the Women's Christian Temperance Union in Illinois whose archives had not really been opened, had not really been used, and we offered the possibility of microfilming those collections to make them more widely available. We put together a project that would do that and that went to the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. Those applications were in the works but it was coming March and we didn't hear anything back. At the same time, the History department called and said that a professor was going to be on leave and they wondered if I would fill in for a year, taking her place teaching some undergraduate courses. To make a long story short, all three of those things came together and the question was, what would I do? What I did was I worked out a plan where I could essentially do all three, hiring assistants and so forth. That meant I would stay at the Bentley for another three years doing all those things. During that period of time, there was interest in the School of Library Science in starting a program on university archives training students in archival methods. We didn't have a formal program and archives were becoming more visible and there was a demand. As things were winding down on these projects, I began to move over to the School of Library Science and took on that project. Then at the same time, because that was only half time, the University was interested in getting more serious about its records management, the management of its backlog of historic records that were all over the place. I took on that. By the time 1978, '79 rolled around I was full-time at the University, half teaching in the School of Library Science, and half working on University Records Management.
  • [00:09:51] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:09:53] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It was an interesting route. But then in 1980, Bob Warner was appointed archivist of the United States and so the position of director opened up and that's another long story but I applied and got the job. I brought to that job all this various experience that I had had in these different areas of archives and projects and the university.
  • [00:10:19] AMY CANTU: Wow, it was busy back then. Sounds like you were really busy.
  • [00:10:22] FRANCIS BLOUIN: There was a lot going on.
  • [00:10:26] ELIZABETH SMITH: What were some of the big changes that happened during your tenure as director?
  • [00:10:31] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Well, there are so many. Because I was director for over 30 years.
  • [00:10:38] AMY CANTU: You saw everything -- the digital revolution, the whole thing.
  • [00:10:42] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Yes. When I started as director I think the biggest technological thing that affected my life was the IBM typewriter that would correct itself.
  • [00:10:56] FRANCIS BLOUIN: The IBM, I don't know if you even know that, it was a little ball and it had a separate white strip in the typewriter and if you engage that strip, it would lift what you typed off the page. I just didn't think technology could get any better than that.
  • [00:11:18] AMY CANTU: You were wrong. Wow.
  • [00:11:23] FRANCIS BLOUIN: The technological transformation was huge. We did a lot of analysis of collecting at the Bentley, what we should be collecting. We did a major self-assessment early on to see where the strengths of the collection were, what the weaknesses were. In that, we doubled our efforts, for example, to seek out documentation of minorities and less visible people in society. We tried to do better in documenting the economic side of the history. A lot of our stuff was political and religious. But economic records are hard because business records can be voluminous, so that dimension was something we needed to think about. We eventually, of course, ran out of space. Archivists always have to worry about space, and you all have to worry about space. In 2001, we were able to secure funds to double the size of the Bentley, which was important. Then the technology, of course, is really interesting because that affected us in so many ways. First, was the extent to which our access would integrate with the total access to libraries on campus. In order to have a presence of our cataloging information in the system, we basically had to re-catalog the entire manuscript collection.
  • [00:13:18] ELIZABETH SMITH: Wow.
  • [00:13:19] FRANCIS BLOUIN: To make it conform with the descriptive categories of the new system that was adopted at the main library. We had to think about staff that had these qualifications to deal with technology, and that was new, and in some cases training staff in new areas. We had to think about eventually collections coming in digital form, and so preparing storage. There were hosts of questions about that. Those were huge transformations. The other transformation I think that was more my own -- things sort of converged in a way, we had talent within our staff to do this -- a broader presence for the library beyond a concentration solely on Michigan history. One of the challenges at the time, and still today, is that the University of Michigan is an internationally focused place looking at just a whole range of questions in the most sophisticated way. I felt that it was difficult for the Bentley to hold its own if its focus was -- not simply but not entirely -- on the study of the history of Michigan. We began to move to think about in a broader sense what our contributions would be to the study of archives themselves and the changes that are going on in archives, the issues facing archives: comparative access, organization, descriptive standards, just a host of issues. In order to do that, we engaged with archives across the country, but also eventually to archives across the world and we had some very interesting programs in those days with archives, most notably in China, in Russia, in Denmark, France, Italy, particularly the Vatican, and others. It was a very exciting time and I think it was very important. People often asked me, why were you doing that when the focus of the collections really is Michigan? My response always was, as I say, that it was hard to sustain the program focusing only on Michigan because there were very few people in those days and probably still today on the faculty within Michigan who support the general purposes of the university who would engage the archives at that level. But there were many at the university who were interested in these programs. These programs meant we had connections with the faculty in East European studies, in Asian studies, Chinese studies. It really brought the library into the highest circles of international concern within the university, and I think it was beneficial in establishing its place.
  • [00:17:07] AMY CANTU: Did you have conferences here, or did you go to conferences?
  • [00:17:14] FRANCIS BLOUIN: We had different programs. For example, with France, we had a series of conferences with various French institutions mainly because the French system is so different from the American system. It was really interesting to explore that. We had a series of exchanges. We had a much more formal exchange with the State Archives Administration of China. That went on for about 13 years and we would send a delegation to China every other year, and they would send a delegation here every other year. Through that, it's my understanding -- it's different now -- but that over 250 archivists in China now highly placed in the system were a product of that exchange, which is interesting.
  • [00:18:04] AMY CANTU: Yeah, that is. I didn't realize all that.
  • [00:18:07] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Then we had the Vatican was a more hands-on project, which was to explore the application of modern descriptive categories to the holdings of the Vatican archives.
  • [00:18:24] AMY CANTU: Tell us a little bit about that. That must have been a pretty exciting project.
  • [00:18:28] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It was very exciting, and it's a very interesting story, and it's too long for this. But basically, I was working to advise the Archdiocese of Detroit on modernizing their archives years ago, and through those connections, I met a group that was working to establish an organization in the United States called American Friends of the Vatican Library. Through that, we went over to Rome. I met the librarian of the Vatican, very interesting Irish man. He's become a good friend over the years. While there, I went to visit the Vatican archives and I was surprised that it was so difficult to comprehend. The finding aids were old.
  • [00:19:22] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Disparate and is it was some, I remember leaving that meeting thinking the Vatican Archives really needs the Bentley library. One thing led to another. We were able to get a project together outside funding from American Foundations to essentially do a re-cataloging of the Vatican archives.
  • [00:19:51] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:19:52] FRANCIS BLOUIN: In the same way, we cataloged the Bentley in response to the need to be comparative with the new initiatives at the University library. We did that. What's interesting and I'll just depart just for about three minutes is that we did the work and the idea was to mount it on the computer at the Vatican library. But for a variety of reasons that didn't happen, we ended up publishing it as a book. At the same time as it was going to press, there was a political change at the Vatican archives, administrative change, but with lots of politics. The new regime really pretty much marginalized what we had done. They didn't see it in their priorities. The book stood as a record of what we had accomplished but it ceased having much influence in the Vatican archives. It would be almost 30 years, that was the status of things. But now there are changes at the Vatican archives and it's all changing as we speak. I visited the Vatican archives a year ago and we are discussing and seeing the book now integrated more -- finally -- into the descriptive system archives.
  • [00:21:22] AMY CANTU: That's really a long time.
  • [00:21:24] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It's a long time, but as friends of mine say, it's Vatican time.
  • [00:21:28] AMY CANTU: It's Vatican time [LAUGHTER].
  • [00:21:31] ELIZABETH SMITH: I was curious about some of the acquisitions that you had during your time there. What are some that stand out?
  • [00:21:38] FRANCIS BLOUIN: My goodness. I do remember when I first became director and I thought, over the years, Lewis Vander Velde, Clever Bald, my predecessor Bob Warner, they had brought in fabulous things into the Bentley library, gubernatorial records, just a host of things, public officials just a host of things. It was a great collection. I thought, you know what? What is there left for me to do? [LAUGHTER] How could I find things of that quality? I was sitting at my desk I think it was only two weeks into my time as director and I got a call from an attorney in Fryeberg, Maine. He said he was working with the estate of this person and they found a trunk full of 19th-century letters from early 19th-century governor of Michigan. One of my predecessors, Clever Bald, had written and said they were interested in it. Apparently, the letter was just tucked in the trunk and the attorney found it and wanted to know if we were still interested.
  • [00:22:47] AMY CANTU: Oh, my gosh.
  • [00:22:48] FRANCIS BLOUIN: But other, some of the ones that were interesting that I worked on that were important, there records of A. Alfred Taubman, for example, the great philanthropist and businessman, one of the business records that we were interested in getting, was interested in working with him. We are through particularly working with a colleague who's interested in architecture at Nancy Bartlett at the Bentley. We brought in two exceptional architectural collections. The records of Albert Khan, the great architect that would wonderful pen and ink drawings of some of the monuments of Detroit and also Gunnar Birkerts more contemporary architect who has done some work here on campus and some of his his drawings as well. That pops into my mind. I'm thinking if I just walked through the stacks, they would come to life.
  • [00:23:51] AMY CANTU: Were there periods of time or particular collections that you weren't sure you were going to get them, or people don't know the worth sometimes and you have to negotiate and figure out a way to get collections, but also to honor the donors' wishes. I'm just curious about how difficult that was. If there were any situations where you thought, I really want that collection, how are we going to go about getting it?
  • [00:24:20] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Yes. That's certainly part and parcel of the business. There are a lot. There's one collection that's still just in its final stages. I think that we began negotiating for in 1975.
  • [00:24:39] AMY CANTU: Wow.
  • [00:24:39] FRANCIS BLOUIN: You go through the process and you're either successful or you're not. If you're successful, it's finished, and if you're not, it's finished. I don't remember all the details, but it's certainly part and parcel of the business.
  • [00:24:53] AMY CANTU: Is there one that you recall that got away?
  • [00:24:56] FRANCIS BLOUIN: That's interesting. The landscape for collecting in Michigan is set. The labor, for example labor records, you go to Wayne State and we are certainly respectful of that. My experience is that number one, the best collections that we got were collections that we identified and went after. Once you start that process, generally we were successful. Once you start negotiating with someone -- first you do it privately we don't advertise, you're negotiating with this or that person -- that once you worked them through the process -- we had a lot to offer at the Bentley -- generally, if we wanted it, we got it.
  • [00:25:50] AMY CANTU: Okay.
  • [00:25:51] FRANCIS BLOUIN: I say on the most part. Um, there were some surprises. This is just a great story because we were interested in records of African Americans in Michigan. I remember getting a call from a fellow who I worked with over in Ypsilanti saying I think I know there's this collection in Detroit this woman has and she wants to know if the Bentley might want it and I don't know how much she wants or... We don't buy. We never bought. The Bentley relies on donations.
  • [00:26:28] AMY CANTU: Okay.
  • [00:26:28] FRANCIS BLOUIN: We don't buy. We're different from the Clements in that regard. My antennae were up, but I thought, She's going to want a lot of money. Anyway, I said I'll meet you there. No I'll drive you. I went over in Ypsilanti, drove into Northwest Detroit. Lovely house, African American woman. She had been a teacher in the Detroit Public School system for a long time. She warmly greeted us and took us down to the basement opened up this closet and there were three boxes of fabulous letters from a relative of hers who had been bishop, I'm not sure if it was in the AME -- I can't remember now -- church but his letters, a draft history that he had written. My eyes were probably out of my head. I'm thinking, how much is this woman going to want with the letters? I said no, we're very interested in these papers. They're very important. We don't have anything like them. It's one of the most important African American collections that we would have.
  • [00:27:47] FRANCIS BLOUIN: She just looked at me and she started to cry. She said, you mean, you think this is valuable? I said, yes it's extremely valuable. Well, my kids want me to throw it away and I said, Well, don't do that! She gave it to us and it was very nice and then about a month later, I went into Detroit and they had a big celebration at her church. It was celebrating many things but on the program was a recognition for her. I was pleased to go down there, and celebrate. So you just never know.
  • [00:28:25] AMY CANTU: What about turning people away? You must have had numerous situations where people wanted to give you material and you didn't have room or didn't fit your collection. What do you do?
  • [00:28:41] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Turn 'em away. I try to be as diplomatic as possible, but the space constraints we work under; we just have to.
  • [00:28:53] AMY CANTU: You had to have it. What are some of the highlights of the Bentley in terms of not only Michigan, the Michigan Historical Collections but specifically Ann Arbor? Can you just give us a quick rundown of some of the items in the collection that you think are notable?
  • [00:29:11] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Goodness. Yes, I've been out of the Bentley for ten years. I used to just have it all in my head. We have a lot of wonderful photographs.
  • [00:29:26] ELIZABETH SMITH: The Ivory Collection.
  • [00:29:27] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Just going to say that, thinking of the name. That Ivory is one of the real gems. A lot of plat books. We have early family collections. I remember Russ Bidlack got the Geddes family collection for us which is a very interesting one. We have Ann Arbor churches and of course, the University. I mean, we have through the University collection. We have fabulous stuff of people who lived here.
  • [00:29:58] AMY CANTU: Yeah, I found my grandfather's. He was here in 1923 as a student. I found his grades and his registration card.
  • [00:30:07] FRANCIS BLOUIN: That's a great collection. The six hundred shoe boxes of these little files of every graduate up to 1970, I think.
  • [00:30:16] AMY CANTU: Yeah, it's crazy.
  • [00:30:17] ELIZABETH SMITH: You're trying to diversify the collection while you're there. Did you change your approach to representing minority groups or indigenous Americans, and what did you do to change that?
  • [00:30:31] FRANCIS BLOUIN: I wouldn't say we changed our approach because everything had potential historical value for the Bentley. It wasn't just business leaders or senators or congressmen or people with great titles. We were always interested in the broad history of the Michigan population. Those records of ordinary people that are good are not easy to find. You just have to keep talking and get whiff of something or you get on the trail and see what you can do.
  • [00:31:11] AMY CANTU: One of the collections we use a lot right now is the Michigan Daily, which has been digitized. It's just the best. I'm curious about when you realized, Wow, digitizing records and putting them online access to digital collections is... Did you have a moment where you were with your staff, and you said, we really got to do this or we have to pivot in this direction, or?
  • [00:31:42] FRANCIS BLOUIN: I think the technology -- the one thing about the Michigan Daily collections, which is wonderful is the technology of the scanning is so great.
  • [00:31:50] AMY CANTU: It's really exciting.
  • [00:31:51] FRANCIS BLOUIN: When you say scanning in 2000 is different than scanning today because you know what happens. I have to say the daily project was Terry McDonald's initiative. That was really after my time and the emphasis on scanning, I think, is primarily after we did a few projects. But I would say in retrospect, they were probably somewhat primitive. I remember we did the John Harvey Kellogg papers for faculty member Howard Markel and we scanned them, but I'd be curious now how serviceable those scans are. Scanning's not part of my story. That's after me.
  • [00:32:45] ELIZABETH SMITH: I was just curious about challenges that you saw in the archives towards the end of your career and how those are manifesting today.
  • [00:32:56] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Space is always a problem for archives so we always had to worry about space. Particularly toward the end of my time there we would get on the Ann Arbor News, for example. I mean, that was an enormous collection and we were invited to go look at it. We just didn't know what we could do about that. I was really happy that we partnered with Josie. We talked about it. If you guys could do it, that's great.
  • [00:33:34] AMY CANTU: Thank you for letting us.
  • [00:33:37] FRANCIS BLOUIN: No. I think it turned out well but I'm saying this after the fact, I don't know. I can't speak for the library. But you have that collection but you couldn't have 20 collections like that.
  • [00:33:53] AMY CANTU: No room.
  • [00:33:56] FRANCIS BLOUIN: No room. There's the room issue. But certainly, the thing that really bothered me and still bothers me in all the archive work that I do is born-digital records. Toward the end of my time, digital records are still integrated with paper records. But it's all digital and you talk to people. I do some other archival work now, but you talk to people and they say, don't worry. No, we have it all. Well, it's all somewhere. But who can find it and ten years from now, where is it going to be? The guy who knows where everything is right now is going to be gone, and we haven't really addressed that.
  • [00:34:49] AMY CANTU: Yeah, that's a big deal.
  • [00:34:51] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It's a big deal, and I worry about that. Is that a good thing that we have everything?
  • [00:35:00] AMY CANTU: You're right. The server space and all of that that it took up then versus now and all of the migration of the digital records to different platforms.
  • [00:35:11] FRANCIS BLOUIN: Even if you keep everything just making sure it's serviceable.
  • [00:35:16] AMY CANTU: Did you have to hire? Did you actively think everybody has to learn how to deal with digital records or did you hire specific people?
  • [00:35:24] FRANCIS BLOUIN: No, when we were -- I don't know how it is now -- but when I came to the Bentley, It was really interesting. The organization was reference, books and manuscripts, and photographs. It was organized for those four departments. We found that because of mid-20th century, late 20th century collections, it was hard to keep the distinction between printed manuscripts and photographs because so many collections had a mixture of all of them. We reorganized the Bentley so that we had a person we had reference as a separate department and we had the university records managing university archives and then we had the Michigan Historical Collections. We had those three, so it wasn't by type, it was by theme. But then toward the end, I don't know the exact date, but this issue of digital records was a problem and we needed to have someone who could look at the digital records issues in both the Michigan Historical Collections and the University records, so we established a separate department that just oversaw our technological developments.
  • [00:36:53] AMY CANTU: Since you retired, you have been at the university teaching, can you talk a little bit more about your career since you left the Bentley?
  • [00:37:01] FRANCIS BLOUIN: After I left the Bentley, I went back to the department and taught there for four years and enjoyed that teaching undergraduates, then I decided that I would retire and my late wife, with whom I was married for 30 years, she was an art historian and she had charge of the teaching slide collection at the History of Art Department. It is a very interesting collection but it of course was totally transformed by technology. She left that position in the year 2000 but she remained very interested in the arts and so forth and so we found ourselves going to New York a lot so we bought a little apartment there and traveled back and forth to do exhibitions and all that thing. I still have that and I spend quite a bit of time in New York now and actually, one thing leads to another, I've become the archivist for a church in New York which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year and getting their archives organized and getting my hands back in processing and all of that. It's been interesting. But all of those questions, what's interesting about it is those questions about technology and where paper records start to get thinner and so much of the textual material is just solely in digital form. I mean we're facing that question in my little archives in New York, everywhere.
  • [00:38:49] AMY CANTU: Do you spend half your time here half your time there?
  • [00:38:54] FRANCIS BLOUIN: About half and half.
  • [00:38:56] AMY CANTU: You've seen a lot of changes in Ann Arbor -- and not just at the university and in the field. Any thoughts about the city on its 200th birthday?
  • [00:39:11] FRANCIS BLOUIN: I mean it's staggering to think that I've lived here for a quarter of it, that's I have to still digest that. I mean there are so many, the growth of the town. I mean one thing is very different and for Ann Arbor I think it's been a very successful transformation but when I did come in and Briarwood Mall, I don't know if I said that when I recorded this. The day I arrived in Ann Arbor, July 1974, I was driving in State Street -- that I thought was very curious, my car packed with all my positions -- that this mall that I was driving by just off 94 at State Street, all these people were going in and out in black tie, and come to realize that they were celebrating the opening of Briarwood Mall. Briarwood had a huge impact on the city because my first apartment was on the Old West side and I could walk to downtown. (Quality Bakery, I don't know if anybody remembers Quality Bakery. Great Danish rolls) but Goodyear's Klines -- they were all there and it was hard to see that wind-down. But then, in those days, as photographs show, to compete with the malls a lot of the stores downtown put up these aluminum sides and tried to make it look very modern. I can't remember when it happened but as the stores moved out Downtown was getting sad looking, they pulled all that down and restored the old look to downtown and fortunately the city, number one the city is wealthy enough that it could sustain the influx of restaurants and other activities that have revived downtown, unlike many downtowns in the state of Michigan which are still struggling horribly.
  • [00:41:34] AMY CANTU: There's a real push and pull right now with historic preservation versus growth and growing up.
  • [00:41:41] FRANCIS BLOUIN: That's an interesting thing and it's hard to be totally against growth. If you preserve everything and you can't grow... It's been interesting for example, in Boston where I still go visit family that I have there, how growth is so stifled because of the political strength in the individual towns that won't allow high-rise buildings. The opportunities for that city to grow are very limited and the consequence is housing prices that are just staggering. It's been interesting to see Ann Arbor struggle with that. I would not have -- and I'm not sure I'm entirely happy about it -- I would not have predicted the amount of growth that is strictly designed for students, the so-called luxury student housing. I worry that when that phase is over, whether those buildings are going to be adaptable for other residential uses. But that's.
  • [00:42:57] AMY CANTU: Right. And it's funny you should mention Briarwood which is getting ready to go through a new renovation of housing. There's a lot going on out there right now.
  • [00:43:07] FRANCIS BLOUIN: I guess I would have questions for other people who think about Ann Arbor now and the extent to which it is no longer the small town it once was. Now I don't know whether it's because I'm retired and of course I'm not around but I don't... When I first came here, whether it was Art Fair or just going to the farmer's market or, um...it seemed like you would see more people you knew. But now there are more people, and in some ways is very transient too, and a lot of people come and go, but it's having more of an urban feel to it than I remember when I came here. I think also the housing prices have gone up substantially and I think certainly the city contains the whole university community that it once did is in fact the case any longer. I think there are dynamics here that are different. It comes from success and you can ride around Michigan and see many towns that are showing the scars of lack of success. So finding the optimal -- the happy medium -- is hard to do. But on the whole it's been wonderful to see the city succeed so.
  • [00:44:49] ELIZABETH SMITH: What are you most proud of over the course of your career?
  • [00:44:55] FRANCIS BLOUIN: I'm most proud of -- because it's something I didn't know if I could do when I became director of the Bentley Library -- was to transform its presence on the campus. I think we did that. I think it was seen as a different place 'cause when Bob Warner was director he also transformed its presence by building the building. Without the building, we wouldn't have been able to do that. The first step on that was... Each director has contributed so much but he saw the importance of the building and got a community of support together to build it. So once we had the building, the question was how do we situate the Bentley so that it's considered a unit worthy of the reputation of the University of Michigan.
  • [00:45:51] AMY CANTU: Thank you so much for your contribution.
  • [00:45:54] FRANCIS BLOUIN: It's been my pleasure. Great place to live and work.
  • [00:45:57] ELIZABETH SMITH: Thank you for talking with us today.
  • [00:45:59] FRANCIS BLOUIN: My pleasure.
  • [00:45:59] ELIZABETH SMITH: AADL talks to is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.