Library Board Updated on Strategic Plan

Also: 2 committees file to oppose downtown library bond proposal

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Sept. 24, 2012): The public session of Monday’s library board meeting lasted only 15 minutes. Although just six weeks remain before the Nov. 6 election – when voters will weigh in on a $65 million bond proposal for a new downtown library – that issue received scant mention.

Josie Parker

Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker at the Sept. 24, 2012 meeting of the AADL board. She reported on recent recognition given to the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which is administered by AADL. (Photos by the writer.)

But the bond proposal could be seen as the backdrop for a report by AADL director Josie Parker, who provided an update of the district’s five-year strategic plan, which the board adopted in 2010. Parker distributed a copy of the plan that highlighted achievements from the most recent fiscal year. “Our reach in the community is deep and it’s wide,” she said. “The strategic plan is our evidence.” [.pdf of highlighted strategic plan]

Board president Margaret Leary noted that as the community’s attention is rightly focused on the bond proposal, the goal of renovating or replacing the downtown building is only one item in the strategic plan. There are seven pages of actions that the library is taking, she said.

At last month’s board meeting Ellie Serras, chair of the Our New Downtown Library campaign committee, spoke during public commentary to brief the board on actions of that pro-bond group. And since then, two other efforts – to oppose the proposal – have emerged. A group called Protect Our Libraries was formed earlier this month. Its treasurer is Kathy Griswold, a former member of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board.

And Douglas Jewett, who had attended an August forum for potential AADL board candidates, filed paperwork on Sept. 25 for the Save the Ann Arbor Library ballot question committee. He did not file to run for the board. He previously had secured a sidewalk vendor permit on Aug. 20 for space in front of the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth. He uses the space to lobby against demolition of the current building, citing its architectural significance. The original portion of the building was designed by Alden B. Dow.

At the candidate forum, Jewett had praised the library, calling it the center of Ann Arbor. Four non-partisan board seats on the Nov. 6 ballot will be contested by five candidates: the four incumbents – Prue Rosenthal, Margaret Leary, Nancy Kaplan and Rebecca Head – as well as Lyn Davidge, who attended the Sept. 24 board meeting.

The positions will be elected by voters in Ann Arbor and portions of seven townships that are covered by the library’s district, in Pittsfield, Scio, Ann Arbor, Lodi, Webster, Salem and Superior. Those are the same boundaries served by the Ann Arbor Public Schools, with the exception of Northfield Township. The four-year terms begin Jan. 1, 2013.

Director’s Report

Josie Parker began her director’s report by highlighting a newsletter distributed by the National Library Service. A section titled “Best Practices from the Network: Spreading the Word about NLS” featured tips from Terry Soave, AADL’s manager of outreach and neighborhood services, about getting coverage for the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which is operated by AADL and serves over 400 people. [Celeste Choate, associate director of services, collections and access, had briefed the board in August about a recent satisfaction survey for WLBPD patrons.]

Terry Soave, Celeste Choate

From left: Terry Soave, AADL manager of outreach and neighborhood services, and Celeste Choate, associate director of services, collections and access.

The National Library Service had reached out to AADL to be featured in its newsletter, Parker said, even though the library has only administered the WLBPD for three years. The newsletter listed a dozen items of advice from Soave about how to promote programs or services. The WLBPD had been covered in a June 2012 e-newsletter of the Homewatch Caregivers of Ann Arbor.

The board gave Soave and her staff a round of applause.

Parker also pointed to a handout of the district’s five-year strategic plan – actions that had occurred in the past fiscal year were highlighted in yellow. [.pdf of highlighted strategic plan]

The document shows how active the AADL staff has been in addressing all elements of the strategic plan, Parker said. ”Our reach in the community is deep and it’s wide,” she said. “The strategic plan is our evidence.”

She noted that some things might seem small, but in fact have broader implications. One example was securing the right to make the movie “Grown in Detroit” available for online streaming by AADL cardholders. It shows how AADL is working to bring different kinds of media to the public, in avenues that aren’t traditional, she said. [Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, had described some of these initiatives in more detail during a presentation at the board's Aug. 20, 2012 meeting.]

Here’s a sampling of strategic-plan actions that were accomplished during the past fiscal year:

  • Added all branches to the possible pickup locations for Art Prints.
  • Developed and launched Science to Go kit collection in late 2011.
  • Launched telescope collection for beginning users and hobbyists.
  • Hosted a meeting of area ESL [English as a second language] service providers and educators in order to exchange information and promote AADL resources.
  • Launched with over 100,000 local newspaper articles in October 2011.
  • Developed a new sensory play event for children with autism.
  • Developed an extremely popular event on funding for non-profits that was repeated several times due to demand.
  • Provided a panel discussion on the homelessness issue in Washtenaw County in conjunction with the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. AADL also videotaped the event and as of June 27 (a little over 5 months after the event took place) the video has been viewed over 1,000 times.
  • Placed withdrawn AADL materials with homeless students via AAPS Homeless Liaison.
  • Partnered with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to provide storytelling at regularly scheduled events for patients and their families.
  • Added collecting samples of each track into music cataloging workflow for inclusion in the catalog.
  • Secured a grant from American Library Association and National Endowment for the Humanities to act as a focus group for book selection for the NEH Muslim Journeys Project.
  • Conducted a WLBPD Patron Satisfaction Survey. (37% of WLBPD patrons responded.)
  • Host a local listserv for Library Biz Connect, a group comprised of small business and entrepreneur-related support service-providers and libraries that shares information about their respective programs and resources; and, also partners on programming.

Margaret Leary, the board’s president, highlighted a couple of initiatives that she said reflect AADL’s work with the Ann Arbor Public Schools: (1) partnering with Mack School to teach fifth graders how to capture and record family stories, using traditional and modern techniques, including podcasting; and (2) partnering with AAPS, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the VA Hospital to develop and deliver Valentine’s cards made by local kids to hospital patients.

Leary noted that the community’s attention is focused on the bond proposal, which is important. But that’s just a single goal under one of six strategic initiatives. There are seven pages of other activities that the library is pursuing too, she said.

Finance & Facilities Reports

As he does each month, Ken Nieman – AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations – gave a brief financial update to the board. [.pdf of finance report]

Jan Barney Newman

AADL board member Jan Barney Newman.

He noted a sharp increase in AADL’s unrestricted cash balance – from $8.132 million in July to $13.295 million by the end of August. This reflects the receipt of proceeds from the July tax bills. As of Aug. 30, the AADL had received 64% of its budgeted tax revenues for the fiscal year, which runs through June 30, 2013.

Five items were over budget, but are expected to come back in line with budgeted amounts by the end of the fiscal year, Nieman said. Those line items include employment costs, utilities, communications, and library programming and grant expenses.

In all, Nieman concluded, August was business as usual.

Later in the meeting, board member Barbara Murphy gave an update from the board’s budget and finance committee. She noted that a financial audit is currently underway, and will be presented to the board in November.

Prue Rosenthal reported from the special facilities committee, on which she, Ed Surovell and Nancy Kaplan serve. Speaking in very general terms, she said the committee had met and discussed the state of the downtown building, what can be done about it and how to move forward.

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

Next meeting: Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor District Library board. Check out this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. By Steve Bean
    September 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm | permalink

    “Developed a new sensory play event for children with autism.”

    If they hold those events indoors they’re missing the opportunity for those kids to get sun exposure and thereby vitamin D production by their skin. The Vitamin D Council has info on their web site ( about possible links between D deficiency and autism, among other conditions.

  2. By Eric
    September 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm | permalink

    How wonderful that the “library” has a telescope collection. Are they the kind for looking at the moon or for looking in windows down the block? These activities require different telescopes. Window peeping is what most people want a telescope for but when they go to an optics store they will not admit it. They buy the astronomical type, then come back in a few days and say it does not work.

  3. September 25, 2012 at 5:40 pm | permalink

    Ouch, too cynical. The telescopes are a beautiful idea.

    The AADL has launched a number of wonderful programs in the last few years, including the special collections. I’m also grateful for the archives that have been established, including the “old news”.

  4. By Stewart Nelson
    September 26, 2012 at 8:27 am | permalink

    Josie Parker is a talented administrator and we are lucky to have her. She has established an innovative and educational program in a tired building. If we pass the millage, I firmly believe she will deliver a central library that we all can be proud of and that will be the envy of the rest of the state for the next 50 years.

    Please vote yes for the Library Millage.

  5. By Eric
    September 27, 2012 at 8:48 am | permalink

    The central library will be 90% redundant within five years. If we pass the millage, the tax payers will be stuck with an unnecessary burden for decades and will be the laughing stock of the rest of the state for the next 50 years. Please vote no for the Library Millage.

  6. September 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    Eric, I’m genuinely curious – what do you think the library should be doing with its existing millage? I haven’t heard yet what I think would be anything constructive.

  7. By Eric
    September 27, 2012 at 7:06 pm | permalink

    The library should be phased out in a time frame of 5-10 years. Expenditures and millage should be reduced at least 20% every year. At the end the assets should be sold off and the organization and its millage terminated.

  8. By Steve Bean
    September 27, 2012 at 9:03 pm | permalink

    @7: Because?

  9. September 27, 2012 at 11:06 pm | permalink

    Ed Surovell is quoted in the October Observer as saying “The building is falling down.” The building is not old enough to be worn out, so it appears to me either the construction was shoddy or the Board has been neglecting the maintenance. Before I vote “yes” I’d like some assurance that the new building won’t be falling down when it’s 20 years old.

  10. By Leah Gunn
    September 28, 2012 at 7:27 am | permalink

    Go to to get the facts. Also, there is a very informative director’s blog on the AADL web site. There are many reasons that the building is unsuitable for a library of the 21st century. Anyone who thinks that libraries will be unused in the future does not know what s/he is talking about. Library usage is way up, and the statistics on the usage of the downtown library prove it – over 600,000 people annually, and 9 million+ transactions. Not everyone can afford a home computer. Just go in on some afternoon and see the people lined up to use the computers – they can use it for a time, but then must give up their place to the next person in line. This is particularly true when school lets out. Don’t shortchange our children. Vote yes for the library.

  11. By Tom Whitaker
    September 28, 2012 at 9:06 am | permalink

    @9: “either the construction was shoddy or the Board has been neglecting the maintenance”

    Or…the library is indeed, NOT falling down at all, but rather some people are using hyperbole to get what they want. I understand how people get all excited about new buildings, but it simply isn’t fiscally or environmentally sustainable (or responsible) to tear down a structure that can be renovated. Even if it’s gutted to the outer shell, it will still save money and resources to renovate.

    And believe me, renovations have the same “new car smell” as new construction when they’re done.

  12. By Leah Gunn
    September 28, 2012 at 9:11 am | permalink

    If you read the facts, you will find out the truth. The building is simply not adequate to meet the needs of the community.

  13. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 28, 2012 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Facts? Truth?

    “If you read the facts, you will find out the truth. The building is simply not adequate to meet the needs of the community.”

    So was it poor planning before, failure to maintain the building properly when it was upgraded a few years ago or the fact the lure of the $100 Million plus (with interest payments) just too tempting to not go for? Forgive us, with your past record Leah, and the record of people you’ve campaigned for, if people are a bit skeptical of any such thing you are supporting. Parking structures, cutting police staff, skimming tax dollars via the DDA–hopefully you can understand some of the backlash for THIS project. It looks like business as usual.

  14. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 28, 2012 at 10:44 am | permalink

    “Not everyone can afford a home computer.”

    Or, Leah, a home. And upward creeping taxes–for “art”, buses, libraries, sidewalks, et. al, add up. Apparently you and other just don’t get it.

  15. By David Diephuis
    September 28, 2012 at 11:30 am | permalink

    Some facts about the Downtown Library—–

    FROM FY2008 to FY2012

    Number of vistors———————- Down 4%
    Number of items circulated————- Down 2%
    Number of reference questions asked—- Down 10%
    Workstation Users———————- Up 4%

    And regarding workstation users, the Downtown Library only has the third busiest use in the AADL system on a user per workstation basis.

  16. By Lyn Davidge
    September 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm | permalink

    @10: “Library usage is way up, and the statistics on the usage of the downtown library prove it – over 600,000 people annually, and 9 million+ transactions.”

    May I offer some clarification, based on the “Ann Arbor District Library Monthly Statistics: 2011-2012″? This document shows monthly and location breakdown for various Library data, year-end totals and yesr-end comparisons with FY2010/2011. The Library’s fiscal year runs July-June.

    In the year just ended, the total circulation for the entire AADL system was 8,863,600. Of these transactions, 5,465,482 were renewals, either online or by phone. The rest of the transactions were actual checkouts, presumably made in person at one of the AADL branches. I don’t know if in-person renewals would be included in the checkout data.

    Breakdown of Checkouts by location:

    Downtown: 1,034,544
    Mallets Creek: 806,603
    Pittsfield: 470,349
    Traverwood: 642,394
    West: 444,228

    Downtown: 1,123,493
    Mallets Creek: 799,297
    Pittsfield: 512,032
    Traverwood: 665,719
    West: 439,665

    Total Systemwide Circulation (including renewals) 2011/12: 8,863,600
    Total Systemwide Circulation 2010/11: 8,862,538

    Systemwide Door Count (i.e. “visits”) 2011/12: 1,687,975
    Downtown Door Count, 2011/12: 576,043

    Systemwide Door Count, 2010/11: 1,736,693
    Downtown Door Count, 2010/11: 590,362

    On the Library’s website are annual reports (bottom of first item under “About Us”) with additional information.

  17. By Joe S.
    September 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm | permalink

    The library is proud to say that it built the three previous new branches without asking for extra money. Maybe it was able to do so by neglecting the kind of maintenance and upgrades that would have kept the downtown building in working order. The only reasons they’re giving so far for this project boil down to an inability to maintain a building – not a good sign if you plan to vote yes – and a child-like desire for instant gratification. I’ll give $65 million to someone for a new library when I’m confident that my investment will be spent wisely (designing for media mentions and awards rather than use isn’t my idea of wisdom) and when that investment will be protected with, at the very least, common sense. Until then I’m voting ‘no.’

  18. By Tom Whitaker
    September 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm | permalink

    @16: Thank you for providing the facts for us to read so that we could find out the truth.

  19. By Eric
    September 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm | permalink

    The door count includes every entrance and exit of the many bums and crazies who go in and out all day long, also the teen agers who go there after school just to hang out and yabber on cell phones. The circulation is mostly romances, mysteries, science fiction and other trashy stuff written at literary and emotional level of about tenth grade. The main terminal uses are pornography, sex, eBay, facebook. Only about 20% of the “customers” are there to learn anything or do anything productive. Why keep it open at all much less squander the tax payers money for a generation on a new building?

  20. By Rod Johnson
    September 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm | permalink

    I’m willing to stipulate that Eric thinks the library should be closed. All in favor? Thank you, let’s move on.

  21. By Ryan Burns
    September 28, 2012 at 10:55 pm | permalink

    Keep in mind that the 2011/2012 numbers were during 5th avenue construction. I’m surprised those numbers were as high as they were considering that.

  22. By Donald Harrison
    September 28, 2012 at 11:24 pm | permalink

    I consider the AADL one of the most well-managed and respected of our cultural and civic organizations. Building the three new branches provided value to our community and affirmed they could deliver building projects on time and on budget. The downtown library’s many shortcomings and limitations have become increasing concerns. If we do not take action now, this will only get worse in the coming years. I believe its prudent for this community to rebuild when interest rates are near record lows and we can create a main facility for the AADL that’s designed to be welcoming, accessible, efficient and adaptable.

  23. By Tom Whitaker
    September 28, 2012 at 11:52 pm | permalink

    @22: All true and all applicable to a renovation that by the library’s own estimates, would be at least 1/3 to 1/2 less costly than a new building. I would happily vote yes to a less costly renovation millage. I am voting no on the replacement millage.

  24. September 29, 2012 at 8:22 am | permalink

    @23, the library’s estimates were that renovations would be only 10% less than a rebuild. We’re talking about a building that was built in three pieces, and renovations to a building like that can be extremely costly.

  25. September 29, 2012 at 8:25 am | permalink

    Also @23, and really, even if it would cost 1/3 less, that’s a matter of about $18/year for the average household. You’re really going to hold back on something you concede is needed because of 35¢ a week?

  26. By David Diephuis
    September 29, 2012 at 10:01 am | permalink

    @24 Mr. Baker…

    I believe the 10% number you site was for a project that went beyond renovation, but also entailed tearing down part of the Library and rebuilding a new 4 story addition to the newest part of the library.

    The study the Library commissioned in 2008, estimated that a premium renovation,enclosing the cafe and porch would have a construction cost of about $15 Million. The $15 million also included costs for new furniture and equipment. That number did not include other fees like design, permitting, and other professional service costs.

    And it also did not include the cost of temporary facilites which by both the most recent study could be close to $4 MILLION. (Mallets Creek was built for just a little more than that amount)

    So, by those numbers it would seem that a quality renovation, with temporary facilites available would cost $25 million or so.

  27. By David Cahill
    September 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm | permalink

    Of course the downtown library is not “falling down”. I was on the Board from 2000-2008, and the building was always impeccably maintained. Yes, there were a few system failures, but they were fixed. I have no reason to believe the maintenance situation has changed since I left the Board. Neither the Board nor the staff would allow the place to deteriorate.

    It is (in part) absurd statements like “falling down” that have led me to oppose the bond.

  28. By Joe S.
    September 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm | permalink

    @25, The question is not the cost to YOU or ME, but the cost to the community. As a member of the community I care whether all $65 million in community resources is spent prudently or not. I have seen nothing thus far to suggest it would be.

  29. By A2person
    September 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm | permalink

    Joe, well, there’s the fact that the AADL board has historically been a very good, careful steward of resources in the past. They postponed building when the recession hit. They DECREASED a millage,, if memory serves me correctly, when they felt they could get by on less. And they built three branches in-budget and on time. I tend to trust them.

  30. By retired librarian
    October 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm | permalink

    LOL=Love Our Library
    Vote NO on library bond
    WHY? closing library 2to3 years
    destroying useful structure
    spending over $65,000,000

    These points especially affect the fixed-income population struggling to make ends meet. They depend on library programs and resources yet can’t afford to pony up more in taxes.

  31. By Herb
    October 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm | permalink

    @13 Eric has made a number of rather harsh statements about the library. Some people seem to dislike them but no one in this forum has disputed their accuracy. My knowledge of the library is limited since I only get there a few times a year. However if these things are true I would have to reconsider my usual support for library millages. In particular I hope it is not true that pornography can be viewed on the computer terminals, I seriously do not want my tax money to support that activity.

  32. By Herb
    October 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm | permalink

    I made an error in above, it is comment #19 that I was referring to.

  33. By A2person
    October 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm | permalink

    @herb, I am a heavy user of the downtown library, along with my two school age kids. I have never experienced what Eric claims. Ever. And how on earth would he know that circulation is All “trashy stuff?”. He clearly has a big shoulder chip, not sure why.

  34. By Herb
    October 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm | permalink

    I think the claim is mostly trashy stuff, not all. Do people view pornography there? Perhaps this week I will make a special trip and see for myself.

  35. By Lyn Davidge
    October 1, 2012 at 9:58 pm | permalink

    @31 Herb, referring to points made @19: “no one has disputed their accuracy.” I can help only to the extent of my personal recollection and observations from the 12 years I worked part time at AADL, from 1997-2009. Please verify the accuracy of my statements with the Library Administration. Here goes…

    The door count is just that, a mechanical count of door openings, which means at the front door only of the Downtown branch. So, yes, it counts every entrance, even if an individual enters more than once in a day as, for example, a staff member might when arriving for a mid-day shift start from the bus stop across the street, and then entering again after a dinner break. It counts the person ducking inside to get out of a sudden rainstorm, who chooses to browse while waiting. This is a public building, open to all, so everyone is treated equally by the door count. So 1700 “visits” a day does not necessarily mean 1700 different individuals came into the building. The staff door use is not included in the door count.

    The Administration might be able to provide information about circulation by category (fiction or non-, mystery, biography, etc.) but I’ve not found that breakdown in a quick check of statistics in the annual reports posted at

    Filtering options are available on all of the Library’s public computers. In my experience, the majority of computer users were looking up information, checking their e-mail, or conducting personal business, such as resume development, job hunting, online shopping, etc. And in my experience, the majority of library visitors were there to use library resources or to read/study quietly.

    I go to my neighborhood branch library much more than I go to Downtown. Like a2person, as a library user, I’ve never had an unpleasant experience with any other patron at any of the branches, including Downtown.

  36. By Lyn Davidge
    October 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm | permalink

    As a point of information, you can read the AADL Policy Manual online. Go to, click on About Us and look for the Policies link to the left.

  37. By Rod Johnson
    October 5, 2012 at 1:11 am | permalink

    Herb in #31: the fact that “no one in this forum has disputed their accuracy” is simply the result of a hallowed internet tradition (usually honored more in the breach than the observance, but this is a wiser crowd than some): namely, don’t feed the trolls.