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creative:impact - Amplifying stories of the Great Lakes

Isle Royale
Amanda Rockafellow Photography
Isle Royale

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Library of the Great Lakes logo
Library of the Great Lakes
Library of the Great Lakes logo


The founders were brought together by a love for writing in the remarkable environment of the Great Lakes at UM’s Bear River Writers’ Workshop. Inspired by the Rocky Mountain Land Library commitment of connecting people to land, they envisioned a library based on the geologic formation of great lakes that transcends borders and boundaries, eight states and two provinces connected by water; a library dedicated to inspiring exploration and understanding of the cultures, lands and water of the region. They founded the Library of the Great Lakes.


The Library of the Great Lakes is based on the geologic formation of Lakes Michigan, Erie, Superior, Huron and Ontario, transcending borders and boundaries, a library without walls.

The mission of the library is to inspire and support exploration of the science, history, literature, arts, and cultures of the Great Lakes, as a curated portal, amplifying works of and about the region.


Contained within the immensity, complexity, and beauty of the Great Lakes are stories of shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes, and glaciers; of mammoths, and hunters; of First Nations, explorers, fur-traders, miners, and loggers; of great ships and bustling cities and industries that changed the world; of countless lives altered, enriched, and lost. The Great Lakes region is the home to innovation, research, technology, science, industry, architecture, poetry, theater, freshwater studies, lake effect snow, sustainable agriculture, fisheries, wilderness and wildness.

One fifth of Earth’s fresh surface water is contained in the Great Lakes. Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior are so big they create their own weather.

It is time they had their own Library.


Founded in 2016, the Library of the Great Lakes incorporated in Michigan in 2017. In 2019, the Library received its 501c-3 non-profit organization designation.


Inger Schultz
Inger Schultz

Inger Schultz is a life-long advocate for arts and the environment, having served on several nonprofit boards, including Great Lakes Performing Artists Associates and the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts. She co-founded the Youth String Orchestra program in the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts and founded the Arts in the Arb program at University of Michigan’s Nichols Arboretum, featuring Shakespeare in the Arb. In addition to extensive experience raising funds for charitable organizations, including for the construction of the Arthur Miller Theater at the University of Michigan, Inger has taught, contributed work and presented papers on interpretation of botanical gardens and arboreta. A chemical engineer by training, Inger tested public water supplies, studied bioremediation, and taught technical communications. Inger writes, farms, hikes, kayaks and sails in the Great Lakes region.


Library of the Great Lakes

Library of the Great Lakes Events

Library of the Great Lakes Featured Books

Library of the Great Lakes Contact Info

Oxbow House


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. It's Tuesday, and that means it's time to meet another creative guest rooted in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and service, impact and add to our quality of life, place, and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. We're going to go deep today, deep into the waters of the Great Lakes. Inger Schultz is the co-founder and president of the Library of the Great Lakes. Welcome to creative:impact, Inger.

Inger Schultz: Thank you so much, Deb.

Deb Polich: So, you've been a lifelong advocate for the arts, and you've served on lots of nonprofit boards, including the Great Lakes Performing Arts Associates and the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts. And now, you've turned your talents to the Great Lakes. So, the transition, or is it always the fascination of the Great Lakes always been part of your life?

Inger Schultz: It has definitely always been part of my life. Even though I was born in Boston, we moved to the Great Lakes when I was five years old in Chicago, and I spent the rest of my life other than a few excursions for a few years here and there, in the Great Lakes region. So, I suppose I was always fascinated by water. We did a lot of camping and sailing in in the Great Lakes region and also up in Canada like Lake Algonquin. And I also ended up--I had studied chemical engineering, and my first job out of college was as a water chemist for the Evanston Water Supply. And so, my husband was doing his Ph.D. at Northwestern, and I became a water chemist.

Deb Polich: Oh, so it really has been a lifelong thing. That's awesome. So, tell us about the mission of the Library of the Great Lakes.

Inger Schultz: We are--the mission is to inspire and support exploration of the science, history, literature and arts and cultures of the Great Lakes as a curated portal and find the works of and around the region about the region. And what we mean by a curated portal is there...we are going to be a library without walls, at least for the next few years. And so, what we want to do is create pop-up experiences around the Great Lakes and then also do deep dives into these precious little treasures in small museums and libraries in the Great Lakes region and private collections and highlight those.

Deb Polich: So, a library without walls. Of course, most of us think of that bricks-and-mortar library. So, are there other examples of such libraries without walls? And did you take inspiration from those?

Inger Schultz: Actually, I think we may be the very first to think that is the direction we are going. There are libraries that are brick-and-mortar libraries who have that wonderful online presence. I mean, you know, you can go through library catalogs online. You can see a lot of collection sidelined. What we hope to do is delve into those and highlight and change the experience a little bit. Like, how do we present the Clark Historical Library collections of the Hemingway albums. They had all these scrapbooks in their archives and how do we present them in a dynamic, fabulous way.

Deb Polich: So, it's the idea that we'd go to your portal, the website or something, and then be able to find resources and places to go to find out more about the Great Lakes?

Inger Schultz: Exactly.

Deb Polich: Okay, so I got it. So, but not necessarily a digital collection of every single book that has ever been written about the Great Lakes?

Inger Schultz: No. And, you know, other people are doing that. They're not only specifying a Great Lakes collection, but we can go into theirs and highlight what they've got and say, "This is about the Great Lakes. This is from the Great Lakes."

Deb Polich: Oh, so interesting. 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Inger Schultz, co-founder and president of the Library of the Great Lakes. So, you know, I'm a Michigander, born and bred, being bred here. But I really love our Great Lakes or as so many people call them, Inland Seas. And, you know, they're such a fabulous natural resource and are beautiful and they have such a connection to our Native American tribes. In fact, I learned that four of the five Great Lakes are actually named using Native American terms, Superior being the one that did not. But this collection that you're putting together, is it going to be research-based stuff, or is it poetry? Is it fiction? Does it tell that story, you know, of the Native Americans? What's going to be in there?

Inger Schultz: Well, just about everything.

Deb Polich: Oh, okay. Everything I just mentioned.

Inger Schultz: As a library, we want to be that resource, that go-to resource. And so, what we hope to do is target different audiences, whether it's children or tweens or high school students or college students or as adults looking at and delving into other works, really focusing on if we're doing a Native American thing. There are 14 tribes in the state of Michigan and 14 different languages.

Deb Polich: Right.

Inger Schultz: So, how can we give that a platform for people to explore? Because where do you go to explore that, you know, and make it accessible to everyone?

"The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas" by Jerry Dennis
Thomas Dunne Books
"The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas" by Jerry Dennis

Deb Polich: It's a good question. You know, I read this book, "The Living Great Lakes" a while back, which I just loved. And it's really kind of the story of a person's journey and deep knowledge of the Great Lakes. Do you have some favorite, favorite books?

Inger Schultz: Well, Jerry Dennis wrote "The Living Great Lakes." He is a co-founder of the library.

Deb Polich: Oh, I didn't know that. That's great.

Inger Schultz: So, it was Deborah Buren's idea. And then, she invited me to co-found and said, "We need to ask Jerry." And so we did. And so, we worked with Jerry for a few years, and then he needed to go back to writing, which is what he does best.

Deb Polich: It's really so interesting, his book.

"The Great Lakes Water Wars" by Peter Annin
Island Press
"The Great Lakes Water Wars" by Peter Annin

Inger Schultz: His book is wonderful. Peter Annin's book, "The Great Lakes Water Wars." Also, he just came out a couple of years ago with the second edition of that. And then Dan Egan's "Death and Life of the Great Lakes" also was a National Book Award winner, I believe. And so, all of those give a really good basis of what the Great Lakes are about and the issues that they are facing. Jerry's "The Living Great Lakes" was a personal journey.

"The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" by Dan Egan
W.W. Norton & Company
"The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" by Dan Egan

Deb Polich: Right.

Inger Schultz: And that brings a different perspective. What he does in that book is create such a great sense of place. You are with him on that boat.

Deb Polich: Oh, great. How about fiction writing? Is there anything that is a favorite of yours in that way?

Inger Schultz: Oh, well, I love poetry.

Deb Polich: Okay.

Inger Schultz: So, this summer, we're doing a couple of events in Saugatuck and we have Alison Swan doing a reading of her book, "A Fine Canopy." You know, Alison is a huge advocate for the environment, and she has won the Petoskey Award for her preservation of the dunes work. So, her poetry is just...it brings you to the moment where she is walking on that beach and crunching through snow. It's tangible.

Deb Polich: And Keith Taylor, I think, is doing the facilitation for that.

Inger Schultz: He is. She's going to be in conversation with the inimitable Keith.

Deb Polich: Who we just had on creative:impact last week.

Inger Schultz: He is amazing.

Deb Polich: Or a few weeks ago, I should say. Sorry. I get confused. So, you mentioned the Alison Swan event. Is that a way you're activating the Great Lakes Museum in a way?

Inger Schultz: Library.

Deb Polich: I'm sorry. Library.

Inger Schultz: Yes. Well, we're sort of rebooting after the pandemic. So, that makes it possible for us to do these small events and collaborating with local institutions. And that event will be with housed and hosted by Oxbow School of Art and Artist Residency in Saugatuck.

Deb Polich: In Saugatuck. And are these programs also going to be streamed?

Inger Schultz: They will not. It is an in-person event only. We would love to be able to stream it, but the capacity is not there yet.

Library of the Great Lakes author events
Library of the Great Lakes
Library of the Great Lakes author events

Deb Polich: So, you know, kind of as a startup, and we just have a minute left here, what do you need to continue to build and develop the library?

Inger Schultz: Well, we need people's support. I mean, what we're trying to do is generate interest and amplify the work that is being done around the Great Lakes. But the way to do that is to help us build the library--a library without walls.

Deb Polich: Oh, that's awesome. We will have all the information on our website about some of these events and links to the library's website and likewise. And, hopefully, people will, you know, find you and try to get involved and, if nothing else, find books to read about this fabulous resource that we have.

Inger Schultz: Thank you so much, Deb.

Deb Polich: Well, thanks for being on the show. That's Inger Schultz, co-founder and president of the Library of the Great Lakes. Find out more about Inger, the Great Lakes Library, and upcoming events at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Please join me again next Tuesday to meet another creative Washtenaw guest on this, your community NPR radio station, 89 one WEMU and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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