Ann Arbor District Library Board meeting (June 15, 2009): A light agenda for Monday’s AADL board meeting included a discussion about how state funding cuts might affect library services, a video presentation on future broadband needs for libraries, and an update from director Josie Parker about negotiations over a utility easement the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority wants for its proposed underground parking structure.
Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director, gave an update on the library’s finances for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. He noted that their fund balance stood at $6.56 million as of May 31. The district had received 97% of the tax receipts for the year, totaling $14.39 million, reported Nieman. Board members, who passed the district’s 2009-10 budget at their May meeting, had no questions for Nieman after his brief presentation.
Josie Parker, AADL’s director, warned the board about two areas that could be affected by state funding cuts to the Library of Michigan. One immediate impact is the state’s decision to implement unpaid furlough days on Fridays over the next few months, which means the Library of Michigan will be closed on Fridays. Because AADL’s services for the blind and physically disabled include some requests that are handled by the state library, any time that library is closed, local patrons could be affected. Parker said they don’t yet know how the state library’s staff will reorganize its work to accommodate these furlough days, but any slowdown will affect AADL’s ability to provide services. She pointed out that patrons might complain directly to board members, so she wanted them to be aware of the situation.
Parker outlined another way that funding cuts to the Library of Michigan might affect AADL services in the future. The AADL belongs to the Michigan Electronic Library Catalog, known as MeLCat. It’s a catalog system, funded in part by the state library, that allows member libraries throughout Michigan to share materials. The service is primarily federally funded, but requires matching funds from the state – if the legislature cuts that funding, then the federal money can’t be tapped. AADL is both the largest MeLCat lender and largest borrower, with over 70,000 items going in and out annually, sometimes to the farthest reaches of the Upper Peninsula. It’s a popular service, Parker said.
If funding is cut, Parker said there might be some discussion among libraries about how to pay for it independently of state and federal aid. That would require hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said. Though AADL pays only a nominal fee to be part of MeLCat, they also pay for 2.5 staff positions dedicated to processing materials for MeLCat, at a cost of about $100,000 annually. She said about three libraries in the state, including AADL, are shouldering the load for MeLCat in terms of providing materials, and they’d need to have a serious discussion about true costs if they were to continue the service, should state and federal funding be cut. “It’s old fashioned, it’s labor intensive, it’s expensive, but it’s loved,” she said.
Another issue related to MeLCat is imminent: As of July 1, AADL patrons will no longer be able to borrow audiovisual materials, like CDs or DVDs, via the system. Here’s the background: When AADL joined MeLCat, the library chose not to lend their own AV materials to other libraries. Parker said that decision was made based on two factors. First, AADL has a greater variety of material than do many other libraries – if AADL’s AV material were made available via MeLCat, it would be popular with users from other libraries and it wouldn’t be on hand for AADL’s own patrons. Secondly, each AV shipment has to be wrapped in bubblewrap, and unwrapped when returned, thus adding to AADL labor costs. Recently, MeLCat changed its policies and now requires that libraries must lend out materials that they borrow. AADL is not changing its position, which means that as of July 1, local patrons won’t be able to borrow AV materials via MeLCat. There’s pressure on AADL to release its AV materials into the MeLCat system, Parker said, but “we simply can’t afford to.” She expects they’ll hear from some unhappy patrons in July.
Eli Neiburger and Kip DeGraaf gave a presentation on the importance of broadband for libraries and municipalities. Neiburger, AADL’s associate director for IT and production, told the board that for a May 20, 2009 Michigan Broadband Summit held in Lansing, the library had been asked to provide a video about killer applications for broadband. When asked by Parker to define “killer apps,” Neiburger gave the example of email being the first killer app – it changed the way people used the network. As an analogy, he said electric light and refrigeration were the first killer apps for electricity, giving people a reason to bring electricity into their homes.
AADL was well-positioned to do the video because of its partnerships with Merit Network and Internet2, both based in Ann Arbor. Internet2 is a consortium of business, government, educational and nonprofit entities aimed at developing advanced internet technologies. Merit is a nonprofit that provides internet services to research and educational institutions in Michigan.
Here’s a link to the roughly 12-minute video, which the board viewed during Monday’s meeting.
After the video, Neiburger said the idea is that libraries need to plan aggressively for their future broadband needs. In Ann Arbor, Comcast – as part of its franchise agreement with the city – has built out a fiber optic institutional network, known as I-Net. Fiber optics provide much greater bandwidth than other means, such as T1 lines. The library uses I-Net, DeGraaf told the board, except for its Pittsfield branch, which is outside the city limits. DeGraaf, a member of the library’s IT staff, said that compared to other branches, Pittsfield patrons would notice a difference during times of peak usage. For example, if several people are watching YouTube videos or downloading images – actions that require greater bandwidth – their downloads might take longer or their videos might “stutter.”
Rebecca Head, the board’s chair, asked what the policy implications might be for broadband infrastructure. Neiburger said that one policy question would be how to deal with broadband constraints. Some libraries, for example, block access to YouTube videos, which require a lot of broadband capacity to view. AADL’s position, he said, is to stay ahead of demand so that broadband constraints aren’t driving policy decisions.
Parker said that libraries really don’t have a choice – this is the future.
Library Talks with DDA over Easements
Parker gave the board an update on talks that the library is having with Downtown Development Authority officials related to the proposed construction of an underground parking structure in the lot just north of the library’s downtown building on Fifth Avenue. The DDA is requesting an easement on land that runs between the AADL building and the University of Michigan Credit Union, located at 333 E. William St. on the east side of the library. The DDA would use that easement to run water and power lines from William Street to serve the parking structure.
The library’s Fifth Avenue building currently gets its power through a line that runs under Fifth. Parker said that if the DDA’s plans for road improvements along Fifth move forward – a separate project – the library will have to get power from another source, such as a feed from William Street.
Parker noted that previously, the library also had been planning its own major project – rebuilding its downtown main branch at the corner of Fifth and William. Though the library board called off that project in late November, citing economic conditions, the DDA’s parking project is still moving ahead, although the authorized bonds have not yet been issued.
There are two requirements that the AADL has regarding an easement, Parker said. First, the library shouldn’t have to pay for any of the easement work – it’s the DDA’s project that requires the easement, she said, so the DDA should have to pay. Second, the library must be careful not to hinder its ability to do any kind of project in the future on its property, she said. No easements should be granted that limit AADL’s flexibility. She said she didn’t have a formal proposal at this time, but wanted the board to know that talks were under way.
Trustee Prue Rosenthal asked what the likelihood was that the parking project would actually be done. Was there any chance that the structure wouldn’t be built? Parker said there are efforts in the community to slow it or stop it – that’s just factual, she said. But at this point, the DDA is moving forward with it.
Trustee Barbara Murphy seemed to have a question, but when Parker asked if she did, Murphy quipped, “I was just noticing that none of us have laptops – and we’re all listening to you.”
Present: Rebecca Head, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Josie Parker, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell.
Absent: Margaret Leary.
Next meeting: Monday, July 20, 2009 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]