Ann Arbor District Library Board (Jan. 26, 2009): The Ann Arbor District Library board got an update about work leading up to next Monday’s opening of the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled @ AADL. And marking a shift toward renovation after plans to build a new downtown facility were put on hold last month, the board approved funds to replace 57-year-old air-handling equipment in the existing building, and suspended rules that require getting a competitive bid for the work.
Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled @ AADL
“We’re ready to rock and roll on Feb. 2,” Celeste Choate told the board, referring to the opening of the WLBPD. Choate – the library’s associate director of services, collections and access – described the range of services that will be offered, as well as outreach efforts the library is doing to reach more potential patrons, including children and non-English speakers. About 500 patrons are registered, but Choate estimated that as many as 5,000 people countywide could be eligible for the services.
The Library for the Blind was previously run by the county, which last year asked AADL to take over those operations. Choate said it’s unusual for this kind of library to be located within a public library, and that their goal is to encourage WLBPD patrons to become active in regular library services as well.
Eli Neiburger of the library’s IT staff described the technology that’s being put in place for WLBPD patrons, including JAWS, a type of screen-reader software that makes it possible for visually-impaired people to use the computer. He also told the board that a new website was being launched Jan. 27.
The board approved a policy change as part of its preparation to open the WLBPD. They passed a resolution waiving the fee typically charged for non-residents to get a library card. For those eligible for the WLBPD, no fee will be charged.
Budget and finance
Board member Prue Rosenthal reported that staff is working on the 2009-10 budget, which will be presented to the board in April. Though the library is authorized to levy up to 1.92 mills and does levy that amount, the goal is to work within a budget of 1.55 mills, she said, and they’re not considering any layoffs or reduced hours. There will be a public hearing on the proposed budget in May, with the board voting on it that same month.
The board approved two resolutions for the purchase and maintenance of two large air-handlers, which circulate air in the eastern and center sections of the downtown library’s basement, first and second floors. The equipment must be custom-made and should ideally be installed when the weather is temperate, said Ken Nieman, the library’s associate director. That’s because the air handlers will be out of commission during the transition, and if it’s too hot, the library would have to close down during the replacement.
In part because of the time crunch – Nieman said they’d like to install the equipment this spring, as opposed to waiting until fall – the board was asked to waive its competitive bid process and award the contract to Pace Mechanical, a company that for the past three years has been the library’s HVAC maintenance contractor. Pace, based in Westland, estimates the project would cost $235,000.
Board member Jan Barney Newman asked whether the new equipment could also be used if AADL were to move ahead on building a new downtown library. No, Nieman said, the equipment could be recycled for its metal parts, but could not be reused on a different building.
The board approved the contract with Pace, and also approved extending an $89,700 maintenance contract with the firm through June 30, 2010.
Friends of the Library
Prue Rosenthal reported on a meeting that she and fellow board members Margaret Leary and Jan Barney Newman had with officers of the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit that raises money to help support AADL. “We had a fabulous meeting,” she said. “We had fabulous cookies.” The meeting with Pat McDonald, Rae Ann Weymouth and Liz Ong focused on the future of the Friends, Rosenthal said. She said the group would prefer to keep its used bookstore at the downtown library, and that they understand there will be upheaval because of projects like the replacement of the air-handling equipment. The Friends are also talking with other groups, like the PTO Thrift Shop and the Salvation Army, about possibly sharing space outside the library in the future. Rosenthal said one of the issues discussed was that if the store closes, it’s done in such a way that long-time volunteers are respected and celebrated. She also said the law firm Dykema Gossett is drafting an interim agreement between the library and the Friends, at the library’s expense.
Withdrawing from regional cooperative
In a move that AADL director Josie Parker said won’t affect library services, the board voted to withdraw its membership from The Library Network, a regional cooperative of libraries in southeast Michigan. A TLN board member, attorney Helen Vick of Ypsilanti, spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, urging the board to keep its membership. She said it struck her as odd that in a time of dwindling resources when libraries needed to stick together, the AADL would leave the cooperative.
Just before the vote, Parker said the library was assuming too great a financial risk by being a member. Because of its size and resources, AADL doesn’t tap services from the cooperative. Yet if state aid that funds TLN isn’t sufficient to cover the cooperative’s costs, members would be on the hook to pay the difference, she said – even members that don’t use its services. Though co-ops were originally designed to share the wealth by providing services that smaller libraries could use, there hasn’t been a recent analysis about their effectiveness, Parker said. Because of the way state funding is structured, if AADL is not a member of the cooperative, it would receive only half of the $120,000 it gets annually from the state – although that funding is never guaranteed.
The board voted unanimously to withdraw its membership.
Josie Parker had kudos for several staff members. She praised Madelaine Krolik, who has worked for AADL 17 years and is retiring at the end of January. Krolik is “quietly wise,” Parker said, the kind of person that it’s easy to take for granted until they’re gone and you realize how much they contribute. “We will miss her.” Parker also gave props to Eli Neiburger, Celeste Choate, Ken Nieman and other library staff who helped with the transition of the Library for the Blind, noting that a lot of the hard work happened over the holidays. And she praised the staff for pulling off the Jan. 24 appearance by best-selling author Greg Mortenson, who packed the auditorium at Huron High. She said the Ann Arbor News article about the event didn’t make it clear that it was organized by the library, and that library staff handled every aspect of the evening. “It’s way beyond what’s normally expected for a library,” she said.
Parker also said that they had some good news about the loss rate of their materials – essentially, the percentage of items that get stolen from the collection. The rate was so low, significantly under 5 percent, that last April they decided to “uncage” the CD collection at the downtown location. Cages are the clear plastic containers that CDs and DVDs are kept in while on the shelf. Librarians take off the cages when the items are checked out. From April through November, they tracked the loss rate of the CDs – it was only 1.3% during that period, “an amazingly positive number” out of around 14,000 items. Now, they’ve decided to uncage the DVD collection, too. Parker said it’s a way of rewarding the vast majority of patrons who are honest.
During an update on the Traverwood branch, Parker noted that they’re getting complaints about parking on Traverwood Drive, because there’s no access from those parking spots directly to the sidewalk. Parker said the property without the sidewalk is owned by the city. When the library submitted plans for the branch, they’d included a proposal for steps along that stretch, but it was rejected by city planners because of liability concerns. “There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it,” Parker said. “It is what it is.”
During the board’s public comment time, Glen Modell, who identified himself as a 33-year employee of the library, said he was there to present his annual criticism of the library’s audit as it relates to retirement benefits. He did not elaborate.
The board was presented with a proposed policy change regarding its selection of exhibits. The change in AADL’s exhibits policy would eliminate specific references to the application process. The board will be voting on these changes at its Feb. 16 meeting.
Present: Rebecca Head, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Josie Parker, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell.
Absent: Margaret Leary
Next meeting: Monday, Feb. 16, 2009 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]