Ann Arbor Library Board Gives Kudos

Also, Library Lot community commons proposal gets aired

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Oct. 18, 2010): The bulk of Monday’s 20-minute library board meeting was devoted to accolades: A clean audit for the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, praise from representatives of people with disabilities, and a five-star ranking for the AADL, making it among the top libraries in the country.

Shannon Owen

Shannon Owen, circulation clerk at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch, checks out materials for patrons on Monday night. (Photos by the writer.)

In addition, during public commentary the board heard from Alan Haber, a community activist who’s advocating for a greenspace commons to be located atop an underground parking structure being built adjacent to the downtown library on Fifth Avenue. Haber presented architectural renderings of the proposal, designed by Stephan Trendov, and asked the board to allow him to give a more detailed presentation at an upcoming meeting.

In his financial report, AADL associate director Ken Nieman told the board that while most costs are expected to be in line with budgeted amounts during the current fiscal year, that might not be the case for employee benefits. It was an issue that arose during the board’s September meeting as well, when library officials reported that they were changing the insurance options for non-union employees to address increased expenses. On Monday, Nieman also said they’d just received word that the employer contribution rate to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) was going to increase again – it had already been bumped up to 19.4% on Oct. 1, and would rise to 20.5% on Nov. 1.

Public Commentary: Library Lot

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is building an underground parking garage on city-owned land directly to the north of the main downtown library, which is located at the northeast corner of William and Fifth. The city issued a request for proposals (RFP) for developing the top of the garage. A group led by Alan Haber had submitted a proposal to build a community commons atop the parking structure, but a review committee has rejected that idea. A consultant hired by the city is now reviewing two other proposals that were selected by the committee as finalists. The city council will make the final call on the project.

Alan Haber

At the Oct. 18, 2010 library board meeting, Alan Haber presents a vision for a community commons to be built atop an underground parking structure adjacent to the library.

At Monday’s meeting of the library board, Haber brought some architectural renderings designed by Stephan Trendov, which showed what a community commons might look like. [Haber had brought the same renderings to a Sept. 19, 2010 city council caucus meeting, where the project was discussed.] He told board members that while he understood the project isn’t in their purview, it was certainly in their view – windows from the boardroom overlook the Library Lot site.

He briefly described the vision for the commons, which could include an enclosed meeting space, an outdoor amphitheater, a fountain, and a pedestrian connection to the new Blake Transit Center, which will be built on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue. Haber said the commons would be governed by a nonprofit community group, and would be a continually changing Chautauqua, an attraction for visitors and neighbors alike.

Haber asked that the board add to one of its upcoming agendas some time for him to make a more detailed presentation. [Normal public commentary is limited to three minutes per speaker.] He said he hoped they would offer their creative input as well as their concerns about the project, and that they’d allow him to place a poster of the concept in the library, in order to get public input as well. Haber noted that if the city council didn’t select the commons, he anticipated that it would become a ballot initiative in the future.

Board members had no comment on his presentation during the meeting.

Financial Report

Ken Nieman – associate director of finance, HR and operations – reported that the library’s unrestricted cash balance as of Sept. 30 was $13.5 million, and that it had received 77% of its tax receipts for the year, or $8.78 million. Through Sept. 30, the library showed an operating deficit of $114,669 and a fund balance of $7.48 million, down from $7.6 million the previous month. At last month’s meeting, the board had approved a $110,000 transfer from the fund balance to cover the cost of a new chiller.

Aside from employee benefits, Nieman said that other expenses are expected to come back in line before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2011. An increase in employee health insurance that took effect July 1 caused expenses to be higher than anticipated. The library administration has offered AADL’s non-union employees alternative health insurance plans aimed at cutting costs for the library.

Nieman also noted that the employer contribution rate to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) was going to increase again – it had already been bumped up to 19.4% on Oct. 1, and would rise to 20.5% on Nov. 1. [For a primer on MPSERS funding, see Chronicle coverage of a February 2010 Ann Arbor Public Schools study session.]

Board member Barbara Murphy asked how much employees contributed to MPSERS, and was told that it varied, usually ranging between 3-8%, depending on how long they’d been employed.

Director’s Report: Accolades for Library Staff, Friends of the AADL

Josie Parker began her director’s report by noting that the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library had received their audit report last week, and had received “great marks in every way.” Both the auditor and library officials had congratulated FAADL for three years of hard work, she said.

FAADL operates a bookstore in the lower level of the downtown library, and gives proceeds to the library. In 2006, the shop was closed when it was discovered that the group had lost its nonprofit status in 2003 and hadn’t been audited in several years. According to an Ann Arbor News report at the time, there was no indication that the 53-year-old organization had misspent money or mismanaged its finances.

Earlier this year, the Friends gave the library $55,000, Parker said at Monday’s meeting, “and there will be more to follow.” They’ve made a commitment that beyond their expenses, they’ll give their net proceeds to the library, she said, adding that they should be publicly congratulated for that.

Jan Barney Newman, who chaired the meeting in the absence of board president Rebecca Head, said the auditor had reported that he worked with a lot of nonprofits, and the Friends were exemplary among his clients. “That is something we can be proud of and they should be commended for,” she said.

Parker also reported that earlier this fall, the downtown library had been visited by Jack Bernard, chair of the University of Michigan Council for Disability Concerns, and Jane Vincent, head of the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, Calif. Bernard and Vincent had “secret shopped” the library, Parker said – without telling library staff, they had explored the library to see how accessible it was to people with disabilities. The library received high marks, Parker said. Bernard and Vincent had been impressed by how well-trained the staff was throughout the library regarding issues related to the Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which AADL assumed responsibility for last year. Vincent has asked the library staff to write up their training process to include in her new book, Parker said.

“Why would we be surprised at that level of service from a five-star library?” Parker quipped, segueing into the final item of her report: News that the AADL received a top ranking in the Library Journal 2010 America’s Star Libraries, which recognizes libraries that are heavily used by their communities.

Parker said she’d been asked by a reporter earlier in the day why this honor is different. Tax dollars are raised for many things, she said, and it’s not always clear that the money is being used for what it’s intended. But for a five-star library, you know. The ranking looks at measurements like how many people come through the door, how heavily their computers with Internet access are used, and how many people attend programs at the library. “Those are not things we manufacture,” Parker said. “Those are people using the public library.”

The ranking was based on 2008 data. In that year, AADL recorded 8.2 million checkouts and renewals; 1.6 million visits to library branches; 259,338 uses of public Internet terminals; and 52,891 people attending AADL programs. Parker noted that those numbers were even higher in 2009: 9.1 million checkouts and renewals; 1.8 million visits to library branches; 281,310 uses of public Internet terminals; and 62,584 people attending AADL programs.

This is the third time that AADL has received a five-star ranking. It is the only library system in Michigan to receive five stars, and among only 85 nationwide to achieve that ranking. Among the 10 libraries nationwide in its category – with a budget between $10 million and $29.9 million – AADL scored third highest.

The community should be thanked, Parker said, because the ranking is based on their use. It’s also hard work for the staff, Parker added, from the people who work the desk, to the people who keep the buildings clean. The board should also be acknowledged, she said.

Barbara Murphy said she was sure she was speaking on behalf of her colleagues in thanking the library staff for their hard work, because “that’s what makes it happen.”

Present: Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell. Also: Josie Parker, AADL director.

Absent: Rebecca Head, Prue Rosenthal.

Next meeting: Regular 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 board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The board’s next regular meeting is on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. By Trudy Hughes
    October 20, 2010 at 7:34 am | permalink

    I support the concept of the Community Commons and respectively request this plan be revisited by the board. Our family are frequent visitors to downtown and bring out of town guests and groups of business associates from out of town there.
    As the building density increases around town, open space in the center of the city will be harder to find. It is an opportunity that should not be passed up. While it will not bring in revenue, and will cost some to maintain, it will cost the city much less than predictions I have read about building and maintaining the proposed hotel/convention centers.
    Please consider this option!