Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 17, 2009): Board members were briefed on Monday about a pending deal with the Herald Publishing Co., owners of the former Ann Arbor News, which is allowing the library to digitize the newspaper’s archives of photographs and newspaper clippings dating back decades. The 174-year-old Ann Arbor News closed in July of 2009.
Josie Parker, AADL’s director, said that accepting the agreement is likely the most important decision the board would make during its tenure, and could serve as a model for other libraries in the future. She also cautioned that though the library isn’t paying for the collection, it’s not free. “From the moment we get it, it’ll cost us,” she said.
Several library employees who are keen to get started on the project attended the meeting, including one librarian who gave Parker a high five when the meeting ended, to celebrate the board’s decision to move ahead with the project.
The board also spent a portion of the meeting reviewing and modifying a draft of its strategic initiatives, and got an update on AADL’s financial performance via a report on the financial audit for fiscal 2009. And performance of a different sort was reflected in two awards that the library recently received, which Parker described to the board, earning her and the rest of the staff a round of applause.
Ann Arbor News Archives
Mark Malven, an attorney with the law firm Dykema, was on hand Monday evening to review a draft copy of an agreement between the library and the Herald Publishing Co. The board was asked to vote on a resolution that authorized AADL director Josie Parker to sign the agreement when it is finalized, which Parker expects to occur later this month.
The Herald Publishing Co. is part of Advance Publications Inc., the New York corporation which closed the Ann Arbor News this summer and which subsequently agreed to give the library, with some strings attached, a large portion of the newspaper’s archives. The collection includes photographs and photo negatives (except for those related to University of Michigan football and basketball), clipping files and bound copies – complete sets of the newspaper editions, some dating back more than 100 years. At Monday’s meeting, Malven explained that the library would get the right to digitize these materials, excluding the bound copies. Herald will retain ownership of the originals.
The deal has been in the works for months. At their Aug. 17 meeting, the board approved a resolution authorizing up to $63,000 to lease a maximum of 3,500 square feet (at $18 per square foot) to store the collection.
One of the final pieces being worked out is a way to protect the library’s rights if the Herald decides to sell the collection or if the firm goes into bankruptcy and its assets are sold.
Board member Prue Rosenthal expressed some skepticism about the agreement. “It does seem like they’re giving it then taking it back in about 12 different places.”
Malven responded, saying that he was pleased with the deal, and surprised that the library was getting rights as broad as they are. From Herald Publishing’s point of view, he said, the library isn’t paying for the use of these materials. He said it’s common to have arrangements between two commercial entities, but not between a company and a library.
Board members almost immediately began asking questions, which prompted Malven to say that it felt like the Supreme Court, when an attorney begins a presentation but doesn’t get far before being questioned by the justices. “Welcome to my world,” Parker quipped.
Here are some elements of the deal, as drawn out by board members’ questions:
- Though Herald had some of its employees go through the collection and pull out photographs and negatives that it wanted to retain – specifically related to University of Michigan football and basketball, which have commercial value – they’ve asked that if AADL comes across something in that category, the library will turn it over to Herald and not digitize it. Parker said that because there is so much material – roughly 1 million photographs and negatives – it was possible that some things had been overlooked.
- Herald retains copyrights to the material. The library will store it, organize it, and digitize it, with certain exceptions. AADL has the rights to control the use of the digitized content, but doesn’t have the right to sell the digitized work.
- Herald can ask for the original material back, but not until after the library has digitized it.
- The library’s current insurance will cover the collection while it’s in AADL’s possession, but there will likely be additional insurance required to cover the material that will be kept in a separate storage facility.
- The bound volumes, many of which are damaged and in fragile condition, can be used by the library, but not digitized. That’s because Herald owns microfilm copies of those volumes and plans to digitize the full newspapers. Parker described the bound volumes as an incredible research tool. For one thing, it will allow librarians to figure out which photographs were actually published. Typically, only a small subset of the total number of images taken by a photographer on assignment made it into print.
- The library company will pay to move the material, which is located in the former Ann Arbor News building at the corner of Huron and Division. It will cost less than $10,000 to move, Parker said. She hopes to take possession of the collection by the end of the year.
There was some discussion of the library’s legal exposure. Board member Carola Stearns sought to clarify who was liable if the library digitizes a photograph and puts in online, and the photographer who took that photo sees it and decides to sue. Malven said that Herald Publishing wasn’t making any warranties on the material – there’s concern about taking on exposure that might be caused by the library’s actions, he said.
Malven said that typically, in a situation like the one that Stearns described, an attorney for the photographer would simply issue a cease-and-desist letter, asking the library to take down the photograph. The agreement with Herald Publishing makes it clear that it’s the library’s responsibility to respond, he said. Parker pointed out that there’s a collaboration clause in the agreement too, meaning that the company would help out if it and the library are jointly sued.
The board also discussed the cost of taking on this project. Margaret Leary pointed out that library staff will be required to do a huge amount of work to organize and digitize the collection. There are opportunity costs associated with it as well, she said – things that the staff won’t be able to do, because they’ll be working on this project. Parker added that there might be things that the library has to stop doing as well, because of staff resources that will be diverted to the collection. “This is a big responsibility that we, the board, are taking on,” Leary said.
The board voted unanimously to give Parker the authority to finalize an agreement for the newspaper archives.
Though all board members had copies of the draft agreement as it was reviewed by the attorney during the public meeting, Parker declined to release a copy to The Chronicle, saying it was still in draft form.
Director’s Report: Proposals for Top of “Library Lot”
Parker told the board that city officials had not yet made public the six proposals they had received on Friday, Nov. 13, for development above the city-owned parking structure next to the library’s downtown building. On that site, known informally as the Library Lot, the Downtown Development Authority is building an underground parking structure. The city issued a Request for Proposals earlier this year, to solicit projects for the top of the structure.
Parker said that as soon as those proposals are made available, she’ll take a look at them and report back to the board.
She also told the board that there was nothing new to report regarding negotiations with the city over easements requested for that project. [See Chronicle coverage: "Navigating Library Lane: Library board asks for easement on city-owned 'private' road"]
Awards for AADL
Also during her director’s report, Josie Parker described two awards that the library recently received, and how they reflect the work of the AADL.
The library was one of 10 systems nationwide in its budget category – and the only one in Michigan – to receive a 5-Star rating from the Library Journal, the highest rating awarded. AADL is in the category of libraries with an annual budget of between $10 million to $29.9 million. The rating is based on 2007 data that was reported by libraries to the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, and includes circulation transactions per capita, visits to library buildings per capita, computer sessions per capita and program attendance per capita.
Since 2007, the library’s numbers have grown considerably, Parker said. Annual circulation is up 30% to 9.2 million transactions, for example, and event attendance has increased 27% to 58,752.
The measurements used in making this award reflect how patrons actually use the library, Parker said, and as such are more important than other data – like the number of books that the library buys or the square footage of its branches. “Those are not outcomes,” she said, “but this is.” This is the second year in a row that AADL has received a 5-Star rating.
Separately, the library received a 2009 Voice of the People award for excellence, based on a survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association and the National Research Center. The award is based on responses to a 2008 National Citizens Survey of nearly 1,000 Ann Arbor residents. The library and the city of Ann Arbor’s recreation services were cited by residents who rated the quality of life in Ann Arbor as “excellent” or “good.”
Parker said the two awards reflect how well the library performs, measured in two totally different ways. The board and staff who attended Monday’s meeting gave a round of applause following her remarks.
At their Sept. 30 retreat, AADL board members had a wide-ranging discussion, with input from senior staff, about the library’s future, in part with an eye toward updating their strategic plan. At Monday’s meeting, the board reviewed a draft of AADL’s strategic initiatives, looking at six categories: organizational development, communications, services, products, finances and facilities. They are not substantially different from the library’s current strategic initiatives, adopted in 2004.
The board’s planning committee – consisting of board president Rebecca Head, Carola Stearns and Margaret Leary – developed a draft document of revised initiatives, with input from AADL director Josie Parker as well as Celeste Choate, AADL’s associate director for services, collections & access, and Eli Neiburger, associate director for IT and production.
In revising the strategic initiatives, Head told her colleagues that the planning committee focused on four areas: 1) the need for more space – and larger venues – in which to hold events, 2) the shift from print to non-print resources, and how to handle that transition, 3) how best to communicate with the public, and 4) how to make library accessible to variety of people in community.
Stearns commented that within the library’s broad strategic initiatives, it was important to give staff the flexibility to adjust to the changing environment – including changes in the economy and in technology – while maintaining their leadership role within the community and the profession.
Over the next few months, the library staff will develop some specific goals designed to implement those big-picture initiatives, Head said. The planning committee will meet to discuss those goals, then bring the final version back to the board at their Feb. 15 meeting.
Tracey Kasparke, a CPA and manager of governmental services for the accounting firm Rehmann Robson, walked the board through the audit report for AADL’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. “Overall, it was a smooth audit, as it always is,” she told the board.
Board member Barbara Murphy noted that this was the eighth consecutive year that the library had received an “absolutely clean audit.” The remark was likely an oblique reference to financial issues under the library’s previous leadership, including a deficit of nearly $1 million in 2000. Later that year, the library’s former financial director, Don Dely, was found guilty of embezzling $119,387 from the library from 1997 to 2000, according to a report in the Ann Arbor News.
Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell. Also: Josie Parker, AADL director.
Next meeting: Board meetings are typically held on the third Monday of the month, with the public portion of the meeting starting at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The board expects to cancel its December meeting, however, and meet again on Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. [confirm date]