Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Feb. 18, 2013): Communications was a common theme throughout this month’s AADL board meeting.
The meeting’s main presentation focused on AADL’s partnerships with the University of Michigan, primarily with the Proyecto Avance: Latino Mentoring Association (PALMA), a UM student group. The program, which meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in AADL’s downtown building, includes 100 participants of all ages who work with about 75 tutors to improve their English language communication skills.
Terry Soave, AADL’s manager of outreach and neighborhood services, encouraged board members to drop by the library when the tutoring is in session, saying, “it’s a pretty spectacular thing to see.”
The Feb. 18 meeting also included a report from the board’s new communications committee, chaired by Nancy Kaplan, which recommended adding a second opportunity for public commentary at the end of each monthly meeting. There was no formal vote on this recommendation, but board members indicated agreement. In fact, a second slot for public commentary had already been included on the agenda when it was posted the previous week.
Speaking at the first opportunity for public commentary on Monday, Kathy Griswold – an organizer of the Protect Our Libraries group – urged the board to allow its committee meetings to be open to the public. She noted that committee meetings are open for most other local governing entities – including the Ann Arbor city council, Ann Arbor Public Schools board, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. There was no subsequent discussion of this suggestion among board members during the meeting.
The board has six committees: communications, budget & finance, facilities, policy, director’s evaluation and executive. Two of those – communications and facilities – had been created as special committees at the board’s Jan. 21, 2013 meeting. Board president Prue Rosenthal noted that some of the committees haven’t met since the previous board meeting, so there would not be reports from all committees.
Nancy Kaplan, chair of the communications committee, told the board that the committee – she, Ed Surovell and Margaret Leary – had met. They were recommending that a second public commentary slot be added at the end of each monthly board meeting, in addition to the one at the start of the meeting.
She said it’s a modification that fits with the board’s previous decision to hold three meetings this year at library branches, rather than at the downtown location, to make it easier for the public to attend. [Those branch meetings will be held at: (1) the Traverwood branch at 3333 Traverwood Drive, at the intersection with Huron Parkway (June 17); (2) the Pittsfield branch at 2359 Oak Valley Drive (July 15); and the Malletts Creek branch at 3090 E. Eisenhower Parkway, east of Stone School Road (Sept. 16).]
No formal vote was taken on this recommendation and there was no discussion, although other board members indicated agreement. A second slot for public commentary has already been included on the agenda when it was posted the previous week.
No other committees had met during the past month. Meetings are scheduled in the coming week for the facilities committee (Ed Surovell, Rebecca Head and Margaret Leary) and the budget & finance committee (Nancy Kaplan, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman).
Rosenthal also noted that Newman is now chair of the director’s evaluation committee.
During the first slot for public commentary, Kathy Griswold, an organizer of the Protect Our Libraries group, told trustees that for many years the community has taken the library’s services for granted, and that there had been only “minimal interest” in the library board until the recent new downtown library bond. [The board had put a proposal on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot for a $65 million bond to fund construction of a new downtown library, but it was rejected by about 55% of voters.]
Now the public is interested, Griswold said, and people are requesting that the board be more transparent by holding open committee meetings. She cited four reasons to support holding committee meetings that would comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act. [Although the meetings of the board are required to comply with OMA, there is no requirement that committee meetings – attended by less than a quorum of the board – be open to the public.]
Most other public entities in the Ann Arbor area hold committee meetings that are in compliance with OMA, Griswold said, including the Ann Arbor city council, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. Most public libraries that her group has contacted having open committee meetings, she added, including Grand Rapids and East Lansing. Kalamazoo’s public library is currently researching the possibility of holding open committee meetings, and West Bloomfield does not have committees.
Another reason cited by Griswold is that having open committee meetings ensures compliance with OMA “when there is limited deliberation at the board meeting.” Finally, and most importantly, she said, the AADL is a public entity, “thus the public has the right to transparency.”
At the end of the meeting, Lyn Davidge spoke briefly, thanking the board for adding a second public commentary time so that citizens could address issues at the end of the meeting. “I look forward to more conversation,” she said. [By way of background, Davidge has previously advocated for the board to add a second opportunity for public commentary, most recently at the board's Nov. 19, 2012 meeting.]
Jim Osborn stressed the importance of having public commentary at both the beginning and end of the meeting. Board president Prue Rosenthal clarified that this would be the case – as it had been at that meeting. Osborn told the board it had been difficult to hear the board’s discussion: “Some of you speak softly.”
UM Partnerships, PALMA
Terry Soave, AADL’s manager of outreach and neighborhood services, gave a presentation describing several partnerships between AADL and various units of the University of Michigan, including the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Highlights of those efforts include:
- Monthly evening storytelling sessions with Laura Pershin Raynor, who goes to Mott and provides family-centric storytelling to patients and their families.
- Distribution of DVDs to the UM health system. Mott acts as the “front door” to distributing AADL DVDs throughout the entire health system, Soave said. To date, about 3,800 DVDs have been distributed through this program.
- Valentine’s Day cards – each year, AADL hosts a card-making program, with the cards distributed throughout Mott as well as to the Veterans Administration Hospital. Last year, over 400 Valentines were delivered.
- Temporary AADL cards are offered at no charge to hospital patients to take advantage of library services throughout their hospital stay.
- A “Read to Me” CD, produced in-house by AADL staff and some outside musicians, is distributed through UM’s Women’s Health Resource Center as well as by Mott. Over 400 CDs have been distributed.
Soave also talked about a partnership with UM’s human resources department. The university initially just directed job applicants to AADL’s computer courses, but over the years AADL has worked with UM to develop courses that better meet the needs of people seeking employment at the university. In turn, she said, UM’s HR staff has been offering quarterly classes at AADL about how to apply for jobs at the university, via UMjobs.org.
The final partnership in Soave’s presentation was with Proyecto Avance: Latino Mentoring Association (PALMA), a UM student group. Soave noted that this is a special partnership for her, because it’s the first one secured after she became manager of outreach.
PALMA operates through the UM Residential College’s Spanish language program, supervised by faculty member Cristhian Espinoza-Pino. Each semester, PALMA enrolls 100 Latino community members as learners, and recruits 75 tutors. This is PALMA’s 10th year as a student organization, and their sixth year at AADL.
Each semester, PALMA offers free bi-lingual, weekly one-on-one English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) tutoring and mentoring. The program is offered to all ages starting at age 3, although some people also bring their infants, she said.
PALMA has looked at barriers that typically prevent people from accessing this kind of tutoring: Time, cost, and childcare. PALMA addresses these issues by providing consistent, bi-weekly sessions that include the whole family, Soave said. So a family with two working parents, three kids and a grandparent who lives with them can all come to the sessions, and each person is given their own tutor to work with while they’re there. “There’s no other program that equals that,” Soave said. “Not even close.”
Most tutors work with the same person for the entire semester, so there’s a lot of consistency. The nearly 200 people who participate come to the downtown library, pair up and then disperse throughout the building for their session, Soave explained. “So if you’ve never been here on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, I’d encourage you to come check it out – it’s a pretty spectacular thing to see.”
Preschool kids are taken to a room where educational activities are provided, with several adults there to supervise.
AADL staff also works with PALMA by meeting with tutors at the start of each semester during an orientation session to describe the library resources that are available to help their tutoring. And staff meets with participants at an orientation offered in Spanish and English, providing library card applications and a tour. “We try to make them feel as welcome as possible right from the very beginning,” Soave said.
She noted that Beth Manuel, the AADL staff member who works most closely with PALMA, was attending the board meeting that evening. Manuel facilitates the orientations and works at the youth desk on Tuesday evenings, “so PALMA participants are able to see a regular, familiar face every week when they come in,” Soave said.
Soave also reported that one session each semester is dedicated to presentations by local community service agencies. The library helps connect PALMA with these groups, looking for services that might be a benefit to participants – for example, Washtenaw Literacy and translation services.
Soave’s presentation concluded with a video of PALMA, created by one of the group’s tutors, Katherine Cook. [.pdf of PALMA video]
UM Partnerships – PALMA: Board Discussion
Prue Rosenthal clarified with Soave that PALMA brings in its own tutoring staff. All tutors are UM students, Soave explained. The tutors come from all different UM departments, not just Spanish language students, she said. Now there’s also a PALMA course for students who want to combine a classroom setting with their tutoring experience.
Nancy Kaplan wanted to know who promotes the program. That’s handled by PALMA, Soave said.
Rosenthal noted that student organizations are often “fluid.” She wondered if the tutors are consistent and committed – so that the library doesn’t face a situation where a tutor doesn’t show up. Soave said that rarely happens. The faculty advisor, Cristhian Espinoza-Pino, is “extremely passionate and dedicated,” she said. The current PALMA board of students works with the incoming board, to ensure continuity. Soave noted that at one point in 2009, 120 Latino community members were part of the program, with 100 tutors. But PALMA organizers decided that the size didn’t work as well, so they pulled back on the number of participants. There’s doesn’t seem to be a shortage of volunteers, she said.
Families also participate for many years, Soave said. The video included some comments by a Washtenaw Community College student who first started attending PALMA sessions when he was in elementary school.
Margaret Leary congratulated the work of staff, for their enthusiasm in helping the program continue. Another benefit is offering a consistent place for people to come, Leary said. It’s much easier for the general public to come to the downtown library, right next to the AATA transit center. It would be harder to find a regular, easily accessible place on campus.
Soave noted that although they can’t track this information formally, the AADL staff has seen over time that people who participate in the program are coming back to the library and using it, because of the trust and relationship they’ve built through PALMA. They’re coming on days when they aren’t being tutored, and they’re coming to all library locations, she said.
Rebecca Head noted that the library is often characterized as the “epitome of a democratic institution – and this proves it.”
UM Partnerships: Board Discussion
Ed Surovell asked about the budget for some of the distribution programs that Soave had mentioned. Soave explained that the materials distributed to UM’s health system come from AADL’s collection. Some staff costs are involved, Soave said. They select items they believe would be most useful. But there’s very little cost, she said.
Josie Parker added that the library bore the full cost of developing the “Read to Me” CD, which is distributed to first-time mothers.
Surovell wondered if there was capacity to expand any of these efforts. Parker replied that there are probably endless opportunities to expand outreach. Funding to do that comes from the library’s general operating budget, she said. Surovell asked what the budget was for this program. Soave said her department has a staff budget, but there’s no separate budget for these individual projects.
Sherlonya Turner, AADL manager of youth & adult services and collections, came to the podium and explained that the distribution of materials is very streamlined with other departments, and incorporated into work they already do.
During the Feb. 18 meeting, AADL director Josie Parker elaborated on several items that were included in her written director’s report. [.pdf of February 2013 director's report]
She noted that Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, is touring Germany as a guest of the U.S. State Department and Zukunftswerkstatt (“Future Workshop”), visiting libraries in several cities. Neiburger is helping organize a U.S.-German library video game tournament, using software developed by AADL staff, with winners of the online competition getting the chance to come to Ann Arbor to compete. Parker noted that this is an outgrowth of a partnership that began in 2005 when she had been invited by the State Department to travel to Europe and talk about AADL’s lending model.
Parker noted that the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads event on Feb. 7 – featuring Connie Rice, co-director for the Advancement Project – had been a big success. She praised the Washtenaw Community College for hosting the event, along with other AADL partners: the Ypsilanti District Library and University of Michigan. It was a great crowd, she said, “for what are often hard conversations” about race. [The 2013 Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads selection is "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander.]
Parker also highlighted the fourth annual Preschool Expo, held on Jan. 27 at UM’s Palmer Commons. The library has partnered with UM and other institutions to bring together information about preschool options, so parents can go to one place in a “vendor-type environment” to find what they need, she said. The expo is in its fourth year, though AADL has been providing this kind of information for a lot longer than four years, Parker noted. With national and state attention now focused on the importance of preschool education, Parker said she wanted the board to know that AADL has recognized this for a long time.
Board members also received a brochure that’s part of the national “America’s Music” project, a partnership of the Tribeca Film Institute in collaboration with the American Library Association, Tribeca Flashpoint, and the Society for American Music. The brochure lists events to be held at AADL, including the opening concert on March 13 with Mr. B.
Finally, Parker highlighted a partnership between AADL and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) on a program called “Let’s Read Math.” It began as a remedial math program for young girls with math phobia, she said, but is now offered to any student with math phobia. This year, there were three sessions on Saturdays in late January and early February. The turnout was good, she noted, despite the fact that it took place on Saturday for elementary students talking about math at the library. “Those are all negatives,” Parker said, but these are motivated students – or motivated parents, she joked. On one Saturday, 38 students attended. Other Saturdays drew 50 and 21 students, she said. Parker praised Ryan Case, a teacher who also works at AADL as an information desk clerk, for his efforts on this program.
During the Feb. 18 meeting, Ken Nieman – AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations – updated the board on AADL’s financial statements for January 2013. [.pdf of January 2013 financial report]
By Jan. 31, 2013 the library had received just over 97% of its budgeted tax revenues for the year, or $10.9 million. The library’s unrestricted cash balance was $12.35 million as of Jan. 31, with a fund balance of $8.126 million and an operating surplus of $139,000. Two line items are currently over budget: communications and software. Both are expected to come back in line with budgeted amounts by the end of the fiscal year, Nieman said. The AADL’s current fiscal year runs through June 30, 2013.
Board members had no questions about the financial 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, March 18, 2013 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]
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