MIRLYN — 20 Years of Providing Access to Books in Flint

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While the librarians and staff of the Frances Willson Thompson Library  celebrate 20 years in our beautiful facility, this is not the only 20th anniversary  our campus here in Flint has cause to reflect upon this year.

Card Catalog Open

In 1993 researchers here on the Flint campus of University of Michigan used the traditional card catalogs to locate books.





It has been 20 years since the UM-Flint library collection data was uploaded — a long and arduous process involving personnel from both the Ann Arbor and Flint libraries needed to digitalize and index the original card catalog data — and released (March 9, 1994) into the University of Michigan Library System online catalog known affectionately as MIRLYN.

The switch to an online catalog meant that the holdings in the UM-Flint collection would henceforth be available to anyone with a computer that had access to the internet.

Using MIRLYN online, any patron could search (using standard database commands known as Boolean Operators), locate any item, determine if the item was currently on-shelf or if checked out, and when any item was due to be returned if not currently available.

Card Catalog Card

No longer were our patrons tied to the old print card catalogs inside the building to navigate through the holdings of our library.

Now, without the necessity of driving to campus, a patron could first check a book’s availability, note the call number, and then go to the library to retrieve an item, changing forever how UM-Flint students, faculty and administrators interacted with the Library.

This wasn’t the beginning of the UM online library catalog.

MIRLYN’s antecedents go back as far as 1987 — 27 years ago — when the University announced the installation of a new computer tracking system for library books named MIRLYN — the name being selected as the culmination of a university-wide contest.

The winning name is actually an acronym: MIchigan Research LibrarY Network.

But of course, the idea of that much data being delivered instantly by a bewhiskered wizard with a pointy hat and a wand appealed to the literary funny bone of all library personnel as well.

So the University of Michigan library catalog is now and forever more known as MIRLYN.

Even that wasn’t the first attempt by University of Michigan librarians to deliver information about their holdings through electronic means.

The first system was known as GEAC (which was the name of the corporation who provided the early computer system).

While the GEAC was capable of allowing circulation staff to check books out and track holdings more efficiently, this system didn’t provide the fast and easy remote access to search the collection desired by librarians.

The transition to the original MIRLYN system was fraught with many technological difficulties.

The solution involved cooperation and sharing of resources between several institutions, including Merit Network, the IBM 7171 protocol converter based upon Yale University software, software from the University of British Columbia-Vancouver, and software from the University of Alberta.

Several types of hardware and software interfaces were employed as well, making delivery of the service difficult to achieve, but at last —  it worked!

A user could access millions of items in the University of Michigan Library holdings, including those in published in any of the over 400 foreign alphabets cataloged under American Library Association characters (non English language items utilizing characters not found in the familiar western alphabet).

In the mid 1980s, this was revolutionary.

By 1994, the 250,000 items in the UM-Flint campus library collection were added to the MIRLYN records available online to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

MIRLYN via NOTISFrom the original library catalog listing all items in the collection as a text-only NOTIS database (see image above) during the 80’s and 90’s, the library  migrated to the newer, browser-based, larger and more efficient ALEPH  database.

The new MIRLYN database system in ALAPH software went “live” online in July 2004.   Today that public version (interface) is referred to as Classic MIRLYN (see image below).


This changed things considerably for Thompson Library and UM-Flint library users.

As an example, for the first time ever UM-Flint patrons had unprecedented access to the shared resources of the UM-Ann Arbor libraries.

Using the new  GET THIS  option, UM-Flint users could login to MIRLYN and — without having to drive to Ann Arbor and back — select books and other in-circulation materials of Ann Arbor and have it delivered to Flint campus for pick-up.

GET THIS  instantly expanded our users ability to find and get the resources from not just the 250,000 books in the Flint campus library, but access up to an incredible 14 million items now shared between all University of Michigan libraries.

ALEPH Mirlyn Screen 2014

A few years later, the ALEPH interface was upgraded to a more intuitive interface (see image above) that provided suggestions based on type of search terms used.


MIRLYN itself is now accessible and searchable on any mobile device — tablets or smart phones — as well as on computers.



From its early digital beginnings, to the addition of the Flint collection into the online catalog in 1994, to today web-based system allowing users access to share all physical items of the UM libraries —  we at the UM-Flint Thompson Library are proud to have been a part of MIRLYN for 20 years.

We can only wonder what the next 20 years will bring!



The UM-Flint Library Looks Back through Time


After the Classroom/Office Building was constructed, the UM-Flint library moved from its temporary location in the Mott Memorial Building (which was shared for several years with Flint JC, now Mott College) to the 5th floor of the new CROB structure.

This was intended to be an interim location for the library as well.  Plans were on the drawing board to eventually create a new buildingCROB066 to   house  just  the   library.  The concept was a round building located near what is now MSB.  A model of the planned building was created and  installed  on  the large table-top  3-D model of  the  UM-Flint  campus, which was on display at UCEN for many years.

When and how the library would be built was unknown, though.  No finalized architectural plans had been drawn up.  No donors had come forward to help the University provide research and study space and opportunities for its students.

Then several fortuitous things happened nearly simultaneously.

The property which had been used by the State (of Michigan) Building as a parking lot became available to re-purpose.

Through the efforts of Joanne Sullenger, UM-Flint Development officer, donors were made aware of our need and stepped forward to assist, chief among them the Thompson family.   (Our facility is named in honor of Mrs. Frances Willson Thompson.)

An architectural firm was selected.  Plans were drawn.  Ground was broken.  A new library building was created!

Thompson Library looks back on the nadir of our beautiful facility on the 20th anniversary of opening the Thompson Library to the students, faculty and staff of the University of Michigan-Flint campus!

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Dorothy G Davis, Librarian, checking her facts.




 —      CONSTRUCTION BEGINS!!!      —








   —        CONSTRUCTION    COMPLETED!        —

Frances Willson Thompson Library opens October 1994





























































Opened October 1994