Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Aug. 17, 2009): The Traverwood library branch will close Wednesday evening at 9 p.m. and remain closed until 9 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 28, the result of difficulties with a floor resealing project. It’s connected to a two-day closure earlier this month, when sealant incorrectly applied to the branch’s hardwood floors failed to dry.
Josie Parker, the library system’s director, announced the unanticipated closing at Monday night’s board meeting, but it was a different closing that stands to have a longer-term impact on the library: The recent closing of The Ann Arbor News. Parker and the board discussed plans by the owners of The News – Advance Publications – to give the library most of its archives. Though no formal agreement has been reached, the board authorized up to $63,000 to lease storage space for bound newspaper copies, newspaper clipping files and most photo negatives. Parker called the digitizing, organizing and use of the archives an exciting, major undertaking, with “huge implications” for the library.
At Monday’s meeting, Parker also told the board about a live webcast she’ll be making next week as part of an international library conference – a reflection of AADL’s growing reputation as a model for library programming and technology.
But of most immediate concern to library patrons will be the Traverwood closing, and that’s where we’ll start our report.
Traverwood, the newest of the system’s five locations, opened just over a year ago and is well-used. The branch reported a door count of 32,213 people in July 2009 – second only to 59,749 at the main downtown library.
A distinct design – featured in the video “Up From Ashes” – includes wood from dead ash trees harvested at the branch’s site on the north side of Ann Arbor. The wood was used for the floors – the only wooden flooring in any of the system’s buildings. As part of regular maintenance, the floors need to be resealed every year. This was the first attempt, Parker said, and they thought they could do it themselves. They’ll be contracting out the work in the future, she said.
Because the initial attempt was done incorrectly, workers will have to sand down the floors, reapply the sealant and let it dry. Prep work includes wrapping the shelves of books and other items in plastic, to keep them clean amid the dust from sanding. The entire project, including the initial resealing, will cost about $8,000.
While the branch is closed, staff from Traverwood will work at other locations. Items put on hold can be picked up at the downtown library, Parker said. The Traverwood dropbox attached to the building will stay in use, but the portable dropbox in the garage will be removed until the library reopens.
The public will be notified with a post on the AADL website, Parker said, as well as an email sent out to all cardholders.
Ann Arbor News Archives
Advance Publications, which owns the Ann Arbor News and decided to shut down the 174-year-old newspaper earlier this year, has agreed to give AADL its archives. At this point, the agreement has not been formalized, though Parker told the board that it is “all but” final. The board will have to approve whatever legal agreement is reached – meanwhile, Parker is looking for space to store the collection. On Monday, she asked for authorization of up to $63,000 to lease a maximum of 3,500 square feet (at $18 per square foot). She hasn’t yet identified a space, but said she expects to pay less than the amount requested, given the general availability of vacant office space.
The archives include all bound volumes of the Ann Arbor News and the Ypsilanti Press, which the newspaper acquired in 1994. The library will also get the paper’s photo archives of up to 1 million items – excluding negatives and images of University of Michigan football and basketball. The newspaper’s extensive clipping files will be going to the library as well. “It’s not a small piece of history,” Parker said, noting that the library has been asking for access to the clipping files in particular for two decades.
The space they’ll need must be climate controlled, Parker said – though the archives haven’t been in climate-controlled conditions at The News building, “from the moment we get it, we want to do right by it,” she said. They need access to a loading dock, since the bound copies will arrive on pallets. They’d also like the location to be on a bus line and fairly close to downtown, so that library staff can easily reach it.
The library has permission to digitize the photo negatives as well as the clips – but not the bound copies. A new business – AnnArbor.com, launched earlier this year by the newspaper’s owners – plans to digitize that portion of the archives themselves. Board member Margaret Leary asked Parker whether there was a time frame attached to the digitization of that part of the archives. Leary pointed out that the library would be paying to store the bound copies, which will be getting more fragile each year and more difficult to preserve. She wondered whether they could revisit the issue, if the owners hadn’t moved to digitize those papers within, say, three years. Parker said she would discuss it with them.
Leary also noted that the $63,000 was an amount to cover a lease for just one year. What happens after that? she asked. Parker said she didn’t know yet. She stressed that it was a gift, and that Advance also would be paying to move the archives. However, she said, it’s like getting a free kitten – there will be costs involved.
Board member Carola Stearns asked if there were sufficient staff resources to handle the project. Parker said that staff have lined up to be involved, but that until they actually get the archives, they won’t know how much work it will entail. Eventually, there will be programming associated with the archives as well, she said – but again, it’s too soon to know what that might involve. “It’s a fun mystery – a very fun mystery,” Parker said.
Ed Surovell raised a broader issue: What’s the future of other newspapers in the state, and their archives? He guessed that other newspapers owned by the same company might see a similar fate as the Ann Arbor News. “I don’t mean to foretell their doom, but I doubt this is the only one they will deaccession.”
It might be an opportunity to create a statewide repository, Surovell said, “and what better place for it to be than here, in the real capital of Michigan?” That’s especially true given what’s happening with the Library of Michigan, he said. [Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently issued an executive order abolishing the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, of which the Library of Michigan is a part.] Surovell suggested that the board consider whether AADL should take leadership in this.
Rebecca Head said there could be grant opportunities as well, since AADL could serve as a model for this type of archiving project. Parker said that they’d already been considering these broader issues. “It has huge implications for the library here, for the community and for the state,” she said. However, they can’t move ahead until a formal agreement is reached and the library actually has access to the archives.
When in Rome …
At 6 a.m. on Monday, Parker will be making a presentation and answering questions in a live webcast about innovative public library programs. The early hour reflects the international audience she’ll be addressing – the U.S. embassy in Rome is hosting her talk, and 6 a.m. here will be noon in that time zone. The presentation is part of the International Federation of Library Associations’ World Library and Information Congress, held this year in Milan, Italy. Questions will be asked in multiple languages, and translated into English.
Parker told the board that AADL has a reputation for innovative programs and projects. One recent example is the digitization of the Ann Arbor News archives, she said. She’ll also discuss the summer reading program, which she characterized as a uniquely American service. Parker had earlier given the board an update on this year’s AADL summer reading program, which she said has seen the highest participation since she arrived as director in 2001. That might be because more families are staying home this summer, due to the economy, she said.
The economy came up again, indirectly, in a board action taken Monday night. One of the motivations for wanting to build a new downtown library – a project that was put on hold last year because of unfavorable economic conditions – was the fact that current systems in the existing building are starting to fail. The freight elevator, for example, broke down in May. Ken Nieman, the library’s associate director, said that when it became clear that the problem was more complex than they initially thought, they enlisted the advice of O’Neal Construction. Owner Joe O’Neal and staff member Tim Stout attended Monday night’s board meeting.
There are two options, Nieman said: 1) replace the broken cylinder that operates the elevator, or 2) install a new elevator. AADL solicited bids for both options, and asked O’Neal to review the bids and interview the contractors. Three companies – Detroit Elevator, Otis Elevator and Schindler USA – bid to replace the cylinder. Only Detroit Elevator and Schindler bid to replace the entire elevator.
Because the replacement cylinder would be larger, the project entails taking out the faulty one and drilling a slightly larger hole, which goes down the equivalent of four stories underground, Nieman said. They’d keep the existing elevator doors and car.
Installing a new elevator would be more expensive. A new elevator would use a cable system rather than the cyclinder used in hydraulic models, and they’d have to fill the existing underground hole with concrete. The project would require a general contractor, adding to the cost.
Based on O’Neal’s advice, Nieman said the library recommended replacing the cylinder and awarding the contract to Detroit Elevator, which made the lowest bid at $112,814. When queried by board member Carola Stearns about why Detroit Elevator was significantly lower than the other two bids, O’Neal said that Detroit Elevator does their own drilling – the other two firms would have to subcontract out that work.
Though the actual work will only take two to three weeks, the replacement cylinder must be ordered and likely won’t arrive until November, Nieman said. Parker also warned that the work would be very loud, occurring mostly in the dock area, basement and the library’s first floor.
The board unanimously approved awarding the contract to Detroit Elevator for the repair work. O’Neal Construction will coordinate the work – their fee is part of the $112,814 approved for the contract.
As the first month in their fiscal year, July is typically a time when they have the lowest amount of cash on hand, according to associate director Ken Nieman, who gave the board an update on finances. At the end of July, AADL had $5.8 million in unrestricted cash, he reported, and a fund balance of just under $6.8 million.
The library board is planning a retreat on Wednesday, Sept. 30 from 3:30-8:30 p.m. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the Ann Arbor offices of the law firm Dykema Gossett, 2723 S. State St.
Board president Rebecca Head said that they’ll focus on strategic planning – the current plan runs through 2010. One major component of the plan that remains undone is to determine the future of the downtown library, she said. Last November, the board called off plans to build a new downtown structure, citing the poor economy.
The board needs to take the temperature of the community about what the library’s role should be, Head said – the downtown building is just one part of that. More broadly, “What does the community really want from the library system?” she asked.
Margaret Leary, the board’s secretary, asked that the retreat agenda include a discussion of finances and what their approach should be. In May, the board voted to lower the operating millage that it levies for the 2009-10 fiscal year – again, citing the economy.
Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Josie Parker, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell.
Absent: Prue Rosenthal.
Next meeting: Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]