Ann Arbor Library Gets Its Game On

Summer reading program has new online component

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (June 20, 2011): On Monday, AADL board members learned that they each earned 200 points toward the library’s online summer game – just by attending the meeting.

Screen shot of the Ann Arbor District Library website

Screen shot of the Ann Arbor District Library summer game website. (Image links to

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, gave a brief presentation on the library’s new online component of its standard summer reading program. In addition to earning points for traditional activities like reading a book, the game includes tasks that are done online, like tagging an item in AADL’s catalog or commenting on a blog post. After July 5, points can be traded in for merchandise that will be available at AADL’s soon-to-be-launched online store.

The online aspect is another way to engage more people with the library, Neiburger said, while not demanding an intensive amount of staff time.

Also during the 30-minute meeting, AADL director Josie Parker updated the board on several issues. She’s been invited by the Ann Arbor city council to address that group at its July 5 meeting, to talk about the library’s needs in the context of plans to develop city-owned parcels. That development might include the top of the underground parking structure – known as the Library Lot – that’s under construction adjacent to AADL’s downtown building.

Parker also noted that AADL’s attorney is reviewing a recent decision by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board to repay the AADL $74,666 in excess tax increment finance (TIF) funds. There’s a question about whether additional funds are owed to the library and other taxing entities.

At the end of her report, Parker briefed the board about her trip to the UNESCO World Forum on Culture and Cultural Industries, held in Monza, Italy earlier this month – the three-day event focused on the future of the written word. She’d been invited to participate in a panel discussion on the topic of the library as a public service. There was acknowledgement among the attendees – librarians, publishing executives, academics, authors and others – that the digital production of material will prevail during the next decade or so, Parker said, but there was no real consensus about what that will actually mean.

In addition to hearing staff reports, the board also approved minor adjustments to wrap up AADL’s FY 2010-2011 budget, which ends June 30. Board members had approved next year’s budget at their May 16 meeting.

Summer Reading Game

Summer reading programs are a staple of public libraries nationwide, including Ann Arbor. Neiburger told the board that the AADL’s traditional summer reading program is designed as a game, with points awarded for reading/listening to books, watching movies, posting reviews and other activities. That game will continue, but this year, they’ve added an online component as well.

The traditional game is staff intensive, he said, which means there’s an upper limit on what the library can do. So they designed a self-serve kind of experience – people can log on, sign up and earn points for completing tasks like checking out a book or other item (10 points), tagging an item in the AADL catalog (10 points), downloading music (10 points per track), writing reviews (200 points), or posting a comment (50 points). You can get between 200-500 points for attending an AADL event – including board meetings – where you’ll be given a code that allows you to redeem the points. [The code for Monday's board meeting was inspired by an item at Afternoon Delight, a nearby restaurant.]

Part of the goal is to get more people interacting with AADL in a variety of ways, such as via the website or by texting. Library staff are especially interested in reviews – rather than rely on reviews from or other sources, they want the social data in their catalog to reflect the local community, Neiburger said. ”People want to know what Ann Arbor is reading when they check something out.”

Starting July 5, participants will be able to use their points to get merchandise from an AADL online store – items like mugs, T-shirts, tote bag and hats – that are paid for by donations from the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL). Teen volunteers will process the orders – they’ll accrue game points for that work – and patrons can then pick up their items at the circulation desk. The game was designed using the library’s existing system, Neiburger noted, so that it can be sustainable without a lot of additional resources.

In the future, the library plans to add other ways for people to earn points, such as correcting scanned texts or providing an item’s ISBN number when they request an addition to the AADL collection. This engages people with the library and encourages them to contribute their knowledge and opinions, Neiburger said, and also saves staff time.

In response to a question from board member Ed Surovell, Neiburger estimated that the cost of the prizes totals about $10,000 to $12,000. No tax dollars are used for that, he added – it’s all donated by FAADL.

Director’s Report

In her monthly director’s report, Josie Parker noted that she’s been invited by the Ann Arbor city council to address that group at its July 5 meeting. They’ve asked her talk about how the library fits into the downtown. It’s in the context of plans to develop city-owned parcels, including the top of the underground parking structure – known as the Library Lot – that’s adjacent to AADL’s downtown building. Parker said it’s an opportunity for her to let councilmembers know what the library’s needs are.

On a somewhat related note, Parker also reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board recently voted to repay the AADL $74,666 in excess tax increment finance (TIF) funds that had been collected. However, there’s been some question about what amount is actually owed to the AADL and other taxing entities. “We do have an attorney looking at that decision,” Parker said, “and we’ll have a decision about that at a later board meeting.” [For background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: "Column: Taxing Math Needs a Closer Look"]

Parker also drew attention to two recent events. The Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL) held their annual meeting on June 5 at the Green Road office building where the library is housing the Ann Arbor News archives. The library took possession of the extensive special collection soon after the owners of the Ann Arbor News closed that business in 2009. The collection is being organized and digitized, but is not open to the public. Parker said she’d been out of the country and unable to go to the meeting, but had heard it was well-attended. Several board members confirmed that the turnout had been good.

FAADL was also involved in the library’s annual kick-off for its summer reading program, held this year at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park event on June 19. Over 1,000 reading logs were distributed, Parker reported, and FAADL’s mascot – Faddle the Owl – made its debut. The nonprofit has launched a membership drive – Parker said FAADL’s efforts are making a strong, positive statement about its future.

Related to the summer reading program, Parker’s report highlighted the visits that library staff make each May to local schools, to promote the program. This year, they visited 19 of the 21 elementary schools in the Ann Arbor Public Schools system, three out of five AAPS middle schools, and three private schools. They weren’t able to secure assembly time at any of the high schools, she said, but they’ll keep trying in future years. Visiting 25 schools might not sound like a lot, Parker said, ”but this is hard work.”

Parker also said the library staff was very happy about AADL’s No. 1 ranking in the “Smartest Readers” list, recently published in the American Libraries magazine. [With a per capita circulation of 58.94, AADL has a per capita circulation nearly twice as high as the second-ranking library on the list: Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma, Ohio, which has a per capita circulation of 33.44. The listing was compiled from a 2008 national study by selecting the 549 libraries from that study that serve a population of over 100,000.]

AADL also ranked No. 4 on’s top 20 “best read cities,” showing where residents are the heaviest purchasers of materials from the online bookseller. Only Ann Arbor and Portland, Ore. made both lists. Parker said it’s not true that if people buy books, they’ll no longer check out books from the library – AADL’s ranking on these lists proves that’s not the case, she said.

Ed Surovell spoke up, saying he wanted to put in a good word for his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, which ranked No. 2 on’s list. When he was growing up in the 1950s, the town had only one “pathetic little bookstore,” he said, but now it was high on the list of best read cities.

Finally, Parker gave a report on her recent trip to the UNESCO World Forum on Culture and Cultural Industries, held in Monza, Italy – the event focused on the future of the written word. She’d been invited to participate in a panel discussion on the topic of the library as a public service. About 250 people from 35 countries attended, including leaders from academic and government libraries, publishing executives, authors, editors and many others.

There was an acknowledgement that the digital production of material will prevail during the next decade or so, Parker said, but there was no real consensus about what that will actually mean. It’s especially troubling for institutions that have vast collections dating back hundreds of years, she said – America in a baby in that context, compared to countries like Iran or Afghanistan, where histories are millennial.

The three-day forum was intellectually stimulating and eye-opening, Parker said. In Africa, for example, there aren’t many public library systems, and countries there are looking at the U.S. as a model, because of libraries here allow people to take items home. European libraries typically don’t lend, she said – it’s a different model.

It was amazing to get a better understanding of America’s role in this global environment, Parker said, and to be able to contribute her perspective. She credited the AADL library boards over the past 15 years with building up the library’s reputation so that its director would be invited to participate in a forum like this.

Board member Jan Barney Newman noted that it also takes the leadership and reputation of a director like Parker to secure such an invitation. Parker replied that governance is what truly makes it possible to do what AADL has done over the years – she said she made that point on the UNESCO panel. If the board had directed staff to only focus their collection on printed books, AADL would not be what it is today, Parker said.

Budget & Finance

The board had passed its FY 2011-12 budget at its May 16 meeting – the fiscal year begins July 1. On Monday, board members considered a resolution to amend the budget for the current fiscal year, making final line-item adjustments to close out the year later this month.

The resolution authorized the transfer of funds related to these line items:

  • $60,000 from salaries & wages to employee benefits
  • $40,000 from utilities to legal
  • $13,000 from software to supplies
  • $12,000 from capital outlays to supplies
  • $19,000 from capital outlays to materials

Ken Nieman, associate director of finance, human resources and operations, did not attend Monday’s meeting – he typically is on hand to deliver the library’s financial reports. AADL director Josie Parker explained that this is a standard practice at the end of the year. Board president Margaret Leary added that the board has been updated monthly by Nieman about line items that are over or under budget, and he has provided projections for whether those items will meet the budget.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the fund transfers for the FY2010-2011 budget.

The monthly finance report was included in the board packet. Because Nieman was absent, there was no financial presentation at Monday’s meeting. Other staff were on hand to answer questions, but the board had none. [.pdf of May 2011 finance report]

Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.

Next meeting: Monday, July 18, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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