Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (April 25, 2011): At Monday’s meeting, AADL staff reported on a recent groundbreaking deal they’ve struck with the digital music publisher Magnatune, as part of a broader effort to provide more digital offerings to library patrons.
The deal – which is getting national attention from library professionals – gives patrons unlimited access to a downloadable catalog of about 12,000 tracks in a wide range of genres. Though it doesn’t include songs by popular artists on major record labels, AADL director Josie Parker told the board that the selection should appeal to a community like Ann Arbor, which values alternative music.
The library is looking for other ways to increase its digital offerings of audiobooks, films, music, and free or open eBooks. Possibilities include tapping collections like Project Gutenberg, which has about 50,000 titles, and working with local authors, musicians and filmmakers who might be interested in making their work accessible to library patrons.
Also at Monday’s meeting, board member Nancy Kaplan advocated for televising the board’s monthly meetings, and said she’d like to bring a formal proposal to the board for a vote on May 16. Other groups like the Ann Arbor Public Schools board and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority currently hold their meetings in the same location as the AADL board – the fourth floor conference room of the AADL’s downtown building on South Fifth Avenue. AAPS and AATA meetings are televised by Community Television Network. Parker agreed that there are benefits to televising the meetings, but cited issues of quality and control as reasons why they haven’t decided to do that yet.
In other business, board members got a preview of the 2011-12 budget, for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2011. They plan to keep the millage level unchanged – AADL levies 1.55 mills, not its maximum allowable 1.92 mills. There will be no layoffs, but no pay increases. The board will take a formal vote to approve the final budget at their May 16 meeting, which will also include a public hearing on the issue.
And in a discussion about the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, Parker asked the board to consider putting a direct link to that organization’s website on the front page of the AADL website. The move would be “a pretty public vote of confidence for them, and recognition for everything they’ve done,” she said. The AADL had distanced itself from the Friends several years ago in the wake of financial oversight issues that have since been resolved. The group operates a used bookstore in the lower level of AADL’s downtown branch, with proceeds – $100,000 this year alone – benefiting the library.
Videotaping AADL Board Meetings
As an item for discussion, Nancy Kaplan – the board’s newest member, who was first elected in November 2010 – brought forward a proposal to videotape the monthly AADL library board meetings. She cited a list of benefits, such as enhancing the library’s outreach efforts and providing another way for the public to get information about AADL, its staff and programs. As an example, she mentioned the report by director Josie Parker at last month’s board meeting regarding Parker’s work with the Digital Public Library of America, and the presentation on eBooks that was made at the April board meeting.
Viewers would also learn, along with the board, about the challenges and changes happening at the library, Kaplan said, especially as it shifts to providing more digital services. Those changes might include delivery of services, the physical structure of the library, and the changing financial environment, she said. Kaplan asked the board to consider televising their meetings, saying that she believed it would cost only $50 per month, if even that much.
[By way of background, Community Television Network (CTN) – a unit of the city of Ann Arbor – records and televises a wide variety of public meetings, including several that are held in the same boardroom as the library board meetings – on the fourth floor of the downtown AADL building. Meetings that are currently recorded by CTN in that room include the Ann Arbor Public Schools board, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, and the Ann Arbor Public Market Commission.]
Parker told the board that she couldn’t argue about the benefits. But she asked Tim Grimes, the district’s community relations and marketing manager, to describe how the library allocates its resources, and why they’ve made the decision in the past not to videotape board meetings.
Grimes said his staff includes two part-time employees who videotape and provide technical support for AADL events. He said they did have an initial conversation with CTN, but were told that because the library board meetings fall on the same night as Ann Arbor city council meetings, the library board meetings could not be aired live – they’d have to be taped for broadcast at a later date.
He also said if the board did decide to videotape meetings, his staff would do it – because all of the video on the AADL’s website is done in-house.
In giving an overview of the work his department does, Grimes said they film about 6-8 library events each month to post on the AADL’s website. Talks by authors like journalist Cokie Roberts in 2008 and TV producer Chuck Barris in 2007 had been especially popular, he said. Grimes also highlighted talks held at AADL in partnership with groups like the University of Michigan Depression Center and University Musical Society, and which are available in the AADL’s video-on-demand collection. In addition to videotaping events, his staff also does podcasts and provides technical assistance for AADL events, Grimes said.
Grimes noted that they produce an annual report video, which he said includes much of the information that Kaplan described, and features interviews with staff and patrons.
Another thing to consider is that on some board meeting nights, the library has to schedule author events at the same time, Grimes said. He cited as an example the board’s next meeting on May 16, when Sebastian Junger – author of “A Perfect Storm” – will be speaking at the same time in the library’s multi-purpose room at an event they’ll be videotaping. It’s the only night that Junger was available, Grimes said, so they didn’t have any choice about scheduling.
Grimes concluded by noting that he’s worked at the library for 22 years, and has been in his current job for 18 years. Not once, he said, has a member of the public asked to have library board meetings filmed. “I have lots of requests for other things, including Chuck Barris, but never for this.”
Margaret Leary, the board’s chair, posed a hypothetical question: If the library were to produce a video about a topic that might be touched on at a board meeting – like Parker’s presentation last month on the Digital Public Library of America – would it be more in-depth than a 5-10 minute talk? Certainly, Grimes replied, saying that their films are very polished in terms of quality of picture, sound and content.
Leary then asked Parker if she had any additional comments regarding their strategic thinking on this issue. Parker said they hadn’t really considered making films about their own initiatives. They certainly could, she said, but it’s more likely they’d look for partnerships – for example, the University of Michigan’s Google books project might be a way to discuss issues related to digitization and libraries.
More generally, Parker said it wasn’t an issue of cost. Rather, with CTN, the library would have no control over quality or scheduling, she said – and the video wouldn’t be the AADL’s. It would belong to CTN.
Kaplan said it seemed to be the culture of this community to televise public meetings. She noted that more entities – like the Downtown Development Authority and AATA – are moving in that direction. She said she isn’t looking for something perfect, but that with so many changes coming for AADL, it’s important to bring the community along with them. Even though Parker’s presentation last month had been brief, she said, it was also enlightening and informative. Kaplan also thought it would be possible to request that CTN broadcast the meetings at certain times.
At any rate, Kaplan added, these are logistics that can be worked out. What they really need to decide is the concept – do they want to record their meetings for broadcast? If there are concerns, she said, perhaps they could do it on a trial basis.
Kaplan plans to bring a formal resolution on the issue to the board’s May 16 meeting.
Digital Media at the AADL
A discussion at the board’s March 21 meeting – which focused on how digital books are transforming the publishing industry and, in turn, public libraries – prompted AADL director Josie Parker to offer to give the board an overview of the library’s digital offerings at their April meeting. On Monday, Celeste Choate – associate director of services, collections and access – gave a detailed presentation on the range of digital services that AADL provides its patrons.
Digital Media: Overdrive
Choate began by describing some of the services that the library offers for eBooks and audio books – including one that’s been a frustration for both library officials as well as patrons.
Overdrive is a business that provides electronic books to public libraries – AADL accesses this service through its membership in the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services. Because Overdrive is an outside vendor, AADL doesn’t have control over its offerings, Choate told the board. The service also only allows for one user download at a time per item, so there are long waiting lists to check out the most popular material. A common complaint is that people want to get the books more quickly, she said. And once the period of use has expired, the material is automatically erased from your computer.
There are technical constraints as well, Choate said. Overdrive is only compatible with certain equipment, and requires users to first install software on their computer. Later in the meeting she walked the board through the steps required to use Overdrive – a fairly complicated process.
Recently, 700 animated Disney storybooks were added to the Overdrive collection – those allow for simultaneous use, but can only be downloaded to computers, not electronic readers. Overdrive offers about 5,000 eBooks and 4,000 audiobooks, which are compatible with Nook and Sony electronic readers. Users of Kindle will be able to access the service at some point soon, Choate said, although she added that when more patrons start to use the service because they can read the material on their Kindles, wait lists will likely grow even more.
Over the past 12 months, there have been about 16,000 checkouts of Overdrive material.
Parker later noted that AADL hasn’t publicized Overdrive because it’s not a great service. Even when it’s available via Kindle, that won’t change the problems that patrons face when using it, she said.
Digital Media: eBooks for the Blind, Physically Disabled
Working with the National Library Service, AADL offers over 21,000 books and 48 magazine titles via the Braille and Audio Reading Download service, or BARD. This service allows for unlimited, simultaneous downloads, Choate said, and unlike Overdrive material, users can keep permanently whatever they download.
To provide faster access for patrons, AADL has downloaded all 21,000 books and can distribute them quickly on flashdrives, whenever there’s a request. This is a service that’s just been launched, Choate said, and is being coordinated by Terry Soave, AADL’s outreach and neighborhood services manager.
AADL also offers access to a program called BookShare, which provides more than 90,000 books, textbooks, periodicals and other material.
All of these services require that the users be a patron of the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which is managed by AADL.
Digital Media: Tumblebooks
Tumblebooks is designed for visually impaired children, and allows users to download animated storybooks, audio games and other games to their computers. The service offers unlimited access, and last year there were 75,000 book views by library patrons, Choate said. Based on what AADL pays for the service, it costs the library less than a penny per book view, she said.
Digital Media: Magnatune
One of the most promising new digital offerings is available through Magnatune, a digital music publisher. AADL recently negotiated a deal with the firm for about 12,000 songs – or the equivalent of about 1,200 albums, Choate said. The service offers unlimited, simultaneous downloads with no waiting. The Magnatune page on AADL’s website describes it this way, in what appears to be an oblique reference to Overdrive: “You shouldn’t have to jump through 17 flaming hoops in order to access digital content, so we’ve tried to make the process as simple as possible.”
Since launching about three weeks ago, over 11,000 tracks have been downloaded, Choate said.
Parker noted that these are independent artists – you won’t find music by the current hot performers – but there’s a wide variety of genres, from world music and blues to hip hop, classical and alt rock. She said the music is appealing in a community like Ann Arbor, where alternative music is valued.
The AADL doesn’t pay per download – rather, the library paid a $10,000 flat fee in a licensing agreement that runs through June 30, 2012. So the more times the service is used, the lower the cost is per use. It’s a very cost-effective service for the library to provide, Choate said.
Digital Media: Future Plans
The library is looking for ways to increase its digital offerings, Choate said – audiobooks, films, music, and free or open eBooks. One example, she said, is to look at what’s available from Project Gutenberg, which has been compiling a collection of free eBooks and has about 50,000 titles. [The books are free because their copyright has expired.] AADL also hopes to talk with local authors, musicians and filmmakers who might be interested in making their work accessible to library patrons.
AADL has the infrastructure in place to provide these digital services, Choate said. They’re pursuing deals like the one with Magnatune, with fixed costs, unlimited downloads and annual licenses. The library is interested in getting the most use out of its collections, she said, while containing costs – they don’t want to pay per download.
Responding to a board member’s query, Parker said there’s never enough exposure for what the library offers, but that when they launch something like the deal with Magnatune, there’s no shortage of information about it. Social media networks are playing a huge role in spreading the word about AADL’s deal with Magnatune, and earlier in the day, Parker said, they got a call from Library Journal, which is interested in doing an article about the agreement.
People who are only interested in mainstream music – like the kind licensed by Sony – might not be interested in what’s available via Magnatune, Parker said. But it’s not worth it for the library to strike a deal with Sony – it would cost them almost as much as retail.
Margaret Leary, chair of the board, expressed frustration at the relatively limited material available to the general public. Leary is director of the University of Michigan Law Library, and described how easy it is for her – as an academic librarian – to quickly access any of thousands of electronic books in their system, all at no cost to her as a user. She described how she was researching earthworms as an invasive species, and with only a simple search found two books on the subject – the full texts were available to her online, she said. Leary indicated that resources should be equally available for the general public.
Financial Reports: March Update, 2011-12 Budget
The board heard two financial reports on Monday from Ken Nieman, associate director of finance, human resources and operations. He first gave an update on March 2011 financials. The district’s unrestricted cash balance at the end of March was $10.124 million, down from $11 million in February. Its fund balance stood at $7.924 million as of March 31. The district has received 96% of this fiscal year’s tax receipts, or $10.923 million.
Three line items – employee benefits, legal expenses and library programming costs – are over budget, Nieman reported. As he’s noted at previous meetings, the extra expenses for employee benefits – related to increased health care costs – are not likely to come back in line with the budget by year’s end. Year to date, that line item is $50,543 over budget.
The district spent $21,126 in legal expenses during March, compared to a budgeted amount of $6,250. Those costs related to four issues: Research on tax increment financing (TIF) for both the Washtenaw Avenue corridor project and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, labor negotiations, and preparation of an amicus brief in a Herrick District Library lawsuit against the Library of Michigan. Year to date, legal expenses are $11,609 over budget.
Library programs, which was $6,107 over budget for March, is expected to come back in line with its budgeted amount by year’s end.
Nieman also pointed out that AADL received $30,264 in state aid during March. Because of uncertainties related to the state’s economy, the district had not included any state aid in its current fiscal year budget – that’s been the district’s practice for several years. The payment is the first installment – typically, the state makes two payments of 50% each, he said. Board member Prue Rosenthal asked whether receiving this first payment means they’ll likely get another $30,000 from the state. Nieman said he thinks so: “We’re as certain as we can be about that.” [.pdf file of March 2011 finance report]
Financial Reports: 2011-12 Budget
Later in the meeting, Nieman returned to the podium to give a briefing on the proposed 2011-12 budget, which the board will vote on at its May 16 meeting. Barbara Murphy, chair of the board’s finance committee, said the committee discussed the budget with staff earlier this month. “It’s another tight budget,” she said. [.pdf file of 2011-12 AADL draft budget]
Nieman began by noting that the budget had been built on the assumption that tax revenues would drop by 3%. However, on April 21, the county’s equalization department released its report on taxable values for jurisdictions in Washtenaw County. [See Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw County's Taxable Value Falls"] At that point, they learned that AADL’s tax revenues would drop by only 1.7%. “That’s good news,” Nieman said. “We’d always like it to go up, but it’s better than we were predicting.”
In a follow-up phone conversation with The Chronicle, Nieman said the budget presented on May 16 will be revised to reflect those higher-than-expected revenues. Revenues for FY2011-12 are now expected to total $12.034 million, rather than the $11.887 million indicated in the draft budget. The bulk of revenues in the budget – $11.092 million – are from tax receipts.
On Monday, Nieman told the board there will be no layoffs, no pay cuts, and the library’s hours and service levels will remain unaffected – patrons won’t notice any changes. The draft budget shows a $186,000 deficit, he said, but given the change in anticipated tax revenues, that deficit is now closer to $40,o00.
Nieman later told The Chronicle that AADL hopes to shift its union employees over to a similar health insurance plan that non-union workers were shifted to last October, to cut costs. About 50 of the roughly 250 AADL workers are represented by unions. Several line item expenses are lower in the FY2011-12 budget, including custodial, purchased services, utilities, and grants and memorial expenses. The budget includes an $18,000 increase in the line item for repair and maintenance, to $283,000.
For some employees, the AADL will see an increase in the amount it must contribute to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) – from 20.66% this year to 24.47%. Nieman noted that only 18 AADL employees are part of this state-mandated retirement program – they are people who were hired when the library was part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools system, before AADL was spun off as an independent entity in 1996. [For a primer on MPSERS funding, see Chronicle coverage of a February 2010 Ann Arbor Public Schools study session.]
On Monday, Nieman told the board that the administration will be working to present a balanced budget to the finance committee at its next meeting, and to the full board in May. He also pointed out that they’ll achieve the budget at the 1.55 mills that the district currently levies – they won’t be raising taxes.
Margaret Leary, the board chair, noted that they weren’t voting on the budget that evening, and that it would be modified before being brought to the board at their May meeting for approval. She clarified that although it’s possible for the AADL to levy up to 1.92 mills, they’ve chosen not to do that. “We have a track record of sticking to our budget and not overextending,” she said. “In this economy, there are not very many public organizations that are able to do that.”
Leary said that Nieman and AADL director Josie Parker deserve accolades – they set a great example for financial management and the provision of services.
Parker reminded the board that their May meeting will also include a public hearing on the budget.
In addition to her written report, AADL director Josie Parker briefed the board on two other items. [.pdf file of AADL April director's report]
Parker reported that she had attended the oral arguments at the state court of appeals last week in the lawsuit brought by Herrick District Library lawsuit against the Library of Michigan.
[By way of background, new standards imposed by the Library of Michigan have changed how public libraries qualify for state aid. Those standards – originally proposed as rules – are the subject of a lawsuit against the state library, filed by the Herrick District Library in Holland. The AADL has filed an amicus curiae – or “friend of the court” – brief in support of the Herrick library’s position, which charges that the state library has no authority to set these rules, and is taking away local control from district libraries. Parker has discussed this lawsuit on previous occasions, including the board's March 21 meeting.]
Parker told the board that the three-judge panel had impressed her with their knowledge of the legal issues at stake, and that they were thorough in their questioning. It’s likely to take several months before they hand down a ruling, however. “For now, it’s a waiting game,” she said. In the meantime, she added, hopefully state aid will be dispersed.
Parker also reported that earlier that day, she’d been in Lansing for a meeting of the Michigan Library Association‘s legislative committee, on which she serves, to meet with the MLA’s lobbyist. In terms of state support for libraries, “it’s amazingly good news,” she said, relative to what they had anticipated. The state House proposed budget calls for cutting library funding from $7.25 million to $3.6 million, which she said is barely enough to fund the Library of Michigan and the Michigan eLibrary, known as MeL, for the year. There is no line item for MeL in the House version.
The Senate version holds library funding harmless – at the same levels as the current fiscal year – and includes a separate line item for MeL.
Parker said the House version at least doesn’t eliminate library funding entirely, and that the final budget will likely include funding somewhere between the House and Senate proposals. That’s “far more than we expected,” Parker said. She noted that legislators from the Ann Arbor area have been very responsive to these issues.
Margaret Leary, the board’s chair, is also chair of the director’s evaluation committee. She reported that all board members had participated in giving feedback about Josie Parker’s performance, and that they had discussed it in executive session earlier that evening. They’ll finish the formal evaluation document in the next month, and she’ll present a public letter regarding the evaluation at the May 16 board meeting. “It’s all good,” Leary said.
Friends of the AADL
Prue Rosenthal gave an update on the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL), a nonprofit that operates a used book shop in the lower level of the downtown AADL building to raise money for the library. They recently gave AADL a check for $20,000 – bringing this year’s total contributions to $100,000.
FAADL is planning a membership drive to coincide with the AADL’s summer reading program, Rosenthal said – she noted that the library is kicking off the summer reading program this year at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
Another thing that FAADL is discussing is whether to have a booth at the nonprofit part of the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Parker had encouraged it, Rosenthal said, because this year it will be difficult to get access to the library from the art fairs. Fifth Avenue is closed between the library and East Liberty, where part of the art fairs are held, so it would be a good year to raise awareness about the bookstore, she said. They’ll need volunteers and $60 for the booth, Rosenthal reported, but it looks like they’ll go ahead with it.
March was down in sales – but overall for the year, the FAADL store is ahead of last year, Rosenthal said. They’ve raised $3,600 selling books online, via Ann Arbor-based Books by Chance and AbeBooks. “They are cooking on all burners,” she said.
Parker told the board that the space agreement between AADL and FAADL is up for renewal in May. At Leary’s request, Parker said she contacted FAADL president Pat McDonald to ask if there are any issues they need to address. McDonald indicated the agreement is fine as it stands, so Parker said she’ll likely ask the board to approve an extension to the agreement at their May 16 meeting.
As another item for the board to consider, Parker noted that several years ago, the library removed the FAADL from the library’s website when the nonprofit was struggling with some financial oversight issues. Now, the FAADL conducts annual audits and they’re clean, Parker said. She attends their meetings and is comfortable suggesting that the library place a link on their homepage to the FAADL website. Right now, the FAADL is only included on the library’s webpage that lists a variety of ways to contribute to AADL. Putting a link on the AADL front page would be “a pretty public vote of confidence for them, and recognition for everything they’ve done,” Parker said.
Rosenthal also noted that the FAADL is looking for board members, particularly people who have graphic design, marketing and public relations experience.
Added to the agenda at the beginning of Monday’s meeting was a resolution to approve the accounting firm Rehmann to conduct the AADL’s audit for fiscal years ending June 30, 2011 through June 30, 2014. [Rehmann – formerly Rehmann Robson – conducts audits for several local municipalities, including Washtenaw County. A representative from the accounting firm presented results of the county's audit at the April 20, 2011 county board of commissioners meeting.]
Barbara Murphy, chair of the finance committee, reported that Ken Nieman – associate director of finance, human resources and operations – had issued a request for proposals (RFP) and received four responses. Of those, two were chosen to interview: Rehmann, and Abraham & Gaffney. Murphy said that based on those interviews, it was clear that Rehmann best suited AADL’s needs.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the selection of Rehmann to conduct the AADL’s audits through 2014.
Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.
Next meeting: Monday, May 16, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]