Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 17, 2014): About three hours before the Ann Arbor city council took action on the issue of a park at the Library Lane site, the Ann Arbor District Library board passed a resolution on that same topic.
On a 6-1 vote, the board asked the council to reject designating a portion of that city-owned site – which is adjacent to the downtown library – as a public park or plaza at this time. Nancy Kaplan cast the lone dissenting vote.
In presenting the resolution, Rebecca Head noted that the library hasn’t objected to the concept of open space at the Library Lane site, as part of overall development of that city-owned property. But the AADL board resolution states that the council resolution “does not allocate the City resources needed to create a successful park, such as physical maintenance, programming, and monitoring unsafe behavior; and … the City has not been able to allocate resources for those purposes to the nearby Liberty Plaza park, Wheeler park, Sculpture plaza on North 4th Ave., or the Kerrytown plaza. …”
Several trustees weighed in to support the resolution. Barbara Murphy said she was conflicted, because she supports having a park or plaza on the Library Lane site at some point. But the council resolution seemed to be putting the cart before the horse, she said. She pointed out that the AADL board resolution is not advocating for tall buildings – but some kind of development is needed, she said.
In dissenting, Kaplan described the long history of efforts to put a public park or plaza on the Library Lane site. She didn’t want to cut off that process. Kaplan also raised the point that the library board would be asking the council to reject a resolution without knowing the exact content of that resolution – because the council could amend the resolution during its deliberations later in the evening. [The council did make a significant amendment to the part of the resolution addressing the amount of square footage.]
Board president Prue Rosenthal told Kaplan that “I don’t think we’re trying to cut off anything.” All that the AADL is asking, Rosenthal said, is that issues should first be addressed – like how the park would be used, who’ll take care of it, how the security will be handled – “so that behavior we’ve seen around the outside of the [downtown library] building will not increase in that space and spill over into our library.”
AADL director Josie Parker attended the city council meeting, which started at the same time as the library board meeting but didn’t adjourn until 1 a.m. Parker read aloud the board’s resolution to the council, and described some of the challenges that the downtown library faces with security.
The downtown library was the focus of another part of the March 17 AADL board meeting, as trustees were updated on renovations to the front entrance. Ken Van Tine, an architect from InForm Studio, answered questions about possible design revisions since a March 13 public forum. InForm will be presenting a revised design to the board’s facilities committee, before the design is brought to the full board for approval.
Trustees also received results from an EPIC-MRA survey that the library had commissioned. About 500 respondents were surveyed in mid-February. Bernie Porn – president of the Lansing-based firm – described the outcome as “a great news poll, in terms of results, and I think you all should be very, very proud.” There are a couple areas of concern, he said, “but they’re not the kinds of things that can’t be overcome.”
The library previously did a survey in early 2012, in part to gauge public support for financing a new downtown library. The board later put a bond proposal on the November 2012 ballot to fund a new downtown building, but it failed to receive a majority of votes. Since 2012, the positive job rating for AADL has increased by 7 points – from 81% in 2012 to 88% in 2014. That’s a significant increase, Porn said. The 2014 survey also showed that only 3 in 10 respondents knew that AADL is “an independent governmental body” funded by its own separate tax assessment. This is one area of concern, Porn noted, adding that it’s certainly something that’s “solvable.”
The current survey results are expected to help guide development of the library’s next strategic plan, which will be completed later this year.
On March 17, the board also passed a resolution authorizing the library director to enter into a bike share program license agreement with the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition. The CEC is managing the new program called ArborBike, which is launching this spring. It would include a bike station on AADL’s downtown library property on South Fifth Avenue, as well as locations at other sites in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. There will be about 14 bikes at the downtown AADL station on the north side of its property.
Library Lane Park
The Ann Arbor city council’s March 17 agenda included two resolutions related to the city-owned Library Lane site, where an underground parking structure is located just north of the downtown library on South Fifth Avenue. A new resolution directed the city administrator to take steps toward possibly selling the development rights for the top of the Library Lane structure. Another council resolution, proposed from its March 3, 2014 meeting, would designate a portion of the surface of the Library Lane underground parking structure in downtown Ann Arbor for an urban park that would remain publicly owned.
It was the second council resolution that prompted action from the AADL board on March 17.
Rebecca Head, chair of the board’s communications committee, reported that the committee had met with Ann Arbor city councilmembers and the mayor “to open up the communications pathway between the Ann Arbor District Library board and city officials.” Committee members are Head, Margaret Leary and Prue Rosenthal.
Head said that each councilmember was asked about their vision for downtown development and for the future of the city-owned Library Lane surface. At the end of those meetings, she said, the committee drafted a resolution in response to the city council resolution that focuses on the Library Lane lot. [.pdf of AADL resolution] [.pdf of council resolution at the start of its March 17 council meeting]
Head introduced the resolution from the floor – it had not been included with the original board packet. [At the March 17 council meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) complained that he'd met with AADL board members, but that they had not indicated that they were contemplating passing a resolution.]
The resolved clause states:
That the AADL Board asks the Council to reject the Resolution until the entire site at 319 South Fifth Avenue receives a complete review by experts in zoning, land use, economic development, and others who can determine the highest and best use of the property; ensure the safety and security of AADL patrons; and consult with the owners and occupants of surrounding properties, downtown business owners, and other stakeholders Council may identify.
Library Lane Park: Board Discussion
Jan Barney Newman thought the resolution stated the board’s feelings very clearly and accurately regarding the aspects of development needed on that site for the safe, intelligent and productive use of the space. She supported the resolution.
Barbara Murphy said she found herself somewhat conflicted, because she strongly supports the concept of some sort of open space there. But in some ways, she said, the cart is being put before the horse. The council resolution talks about creating a park there of a certain size without addressing the various issues of how it will be handled financially or in terms of security, she noted. Further, the council resolution makes a suggestion that the library be part of programming the site, she said, but there’s been no consultation about that.
Murphy supported the AADL resolution, but hoped that the council would take it in the spirit in which it’s intended – that the board is cautious about the council moving too quickly and approving something without full details.
Margaret Leary said the communications committee drafted the resolution very carefully. “We didn’t want to overstate AADL’s position,” she said. AADL never objected to the plans from 2007-2008 that showed a plaza on that site, Leary noted. The library board also reviewed the report that the city’s park advisory committee had passed in the fall of 2013 – which called for a plaza at Library Lane – and trustees didn’t object to that.
The intent when the Library Lane parking structure was built was to create a plaza in conjunction with development on that site, Leary said. The city went to the trouble of rezoning that property as D1 – rather than public land – so that a very large, tall building could be put there, she noted. The idea was to surround the plaza with buildings that would be filled with people as much of the day and night as possible, seven days a week, in order to activate the park or plaza. The park would be activated by the presence of the buildings, she said.
The second important piece of that approach is that the city wouldn’t have to pay for the park or maintain it, Leary said. The developer and owner of the buildings surrounding the park or plaza would see the advantage of having it, and it would be sized appropriately for the number of people who might use it. There would be activities planned on it “so that it would not become a lounging area for people who had no place else to go,” Leary said. Her hope is that the site will be developed as originally planned, and that it won’t be an expense for the city at all.
Murphy responded, pointing out that the AADL resolution doesn’t mention tall buildings or indicate support for that. Murphy said she agreed with Leary that the plaza or park should be activated by something, but not necessarily by tall buildings.
Nancy Kaplan said this resolution had caused her to do some homework. She noted that the proposal for a park or plaza on the Library Lane site has been on the city’s agenda for a long time. She pointed to a 1991 Luckenbach/Ziegelman report that looked at development of the entire block. [.pdf of Luckenbach/Ziegelman report] The report includes a concept drawing for a park or plaza on South Fifth Avenue, in addition to Liberty Plaza at Liberty and Division, she noted. Kaplan read from the report, which stated that a park or public open space should be developed on the South Fifth Avenue side: “Downtown is almost totally devoid of grass. There is no grass to sit on or eat lunch. No grass for young children to play on. No grass to provide a welcome change of ground plane from the concrete, brick and asphalt of downtown.”
Kaplan said she gives this report a lot of credibility because the authors included Carl Luckenbach, the architect who designed the AADL’s Malletts Creek branch as well as initial plans for a new downtown library. He was also the architect for the Library Lane underground parking structure, she noted.
The city’s park advisory commission report is another factor, Kaplan said. PAC’s report came about after the Connecting William Street study, when the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority stated that they “don’t do parks,” Kaplan said. So the city council asked PAC to study the issue. Kaplan said PAC’s process was very good, and included meeting with specific groups as well as the general public. PAC also did a survey, she said.
PAC’s recommendations state that “any new downtown park or open space should prioritize community preferences,” Kaplan noted. She read from the PAC report: “The Library Lot is large in size and has a central location that was ranked highest by survey and public meeting participants alike for potential park space.” She said PAC acknowledged that programming and maintenance would be needed.
Finally, Kaplan pointed out that the AADL board isn’t at the city council meeting, “so we do not know precisely what will be proposed, how it will be modified, whether it will be voted up or down or postponed.” There are two council resolutions that are on the agenda that night, she noted – to designate an urban park location, and to use a broker to sell the property. The library board doesn’t know how deed restrictions or premiums might be used to get commitments that would benefit both the park and the developer, she said.
Those people who support a park on the site want it to be successful and safe, Kaplan said. “I think it is not necessary to cut off all that has been done to study the Library Lot.” Rather, the process should continue with participation from all the property owners and the community, she said. Kaplan concluded by saying she wouldn’t support the resolution.
Prue Rosenthal responded, saying “I don’t think we’re trying to cut off anything.” All that the AADL is asking, she said, is that issues should first be addressed – like how the park would be used, who’ll take care of it, how the security will be handled “so that behavior we’ve seen around the outside of the [downtown library] building will not increase in that space and spill over into our library.” Rosenthal thought the council resolution actually cuts off the possibility of making the most out of that site.
Kaplan said the council resolution merely designates the space as a park. The community has supported that, she said – even architects and engineers. She noted that the resolution being brought forward by councilmember Stephen Kunselman would direct the city administrator to hire a broker to start the process of developing that site.
Head told Kaplan that she appreciated the history Kaplan had highlighted – “in particular the report from 23 years ago, though I have to say that a lot has changed in Ann Arbor in 23 years, including the use of Liberty Plaza.” Head was very concerned about what happens in Liberty Plaza, saying she knows it’s not a sustainable park. The whole point of the AADL resolution is that “we are for parks,” Head said. Although it’s the city council’s business, “it has a huge effect on the downtown library.” So the AADL resolution asks that the city do its homework first, she said, “and then let’s have a park – that would be great.”
If there’s a park at the Library Lane site, Head said she wanted it to last. “I don’t want it to be a park that isn’t used, that has problems, that is not sustainable. I want a sustainable park that we can all use.”
Murphy said Kaplan had brought up an interesting point about the uncertainty of the council’s action – because it’s not clear what the council resolution will ultimately be. She wondered if the AADL resolution should be amended, asking the council to exercise extreme caution in moving forward until the entire site receives a complete review. That might be a way of letting the council know how concerned the library board is, without opposing a specific council resolution, she said.
Newman noted that the council resolution called for a park along the entire western edge of the Library Lane site, along South Fifth Avenue. She said she’s read opinions from planners and architects who say that would be a detriment to any other development on the site.
In fact, the council resolution was amended later in the evening on March 17. Council deliberations highlighted the question of whether the public area would take up the entire Fifth Avenue frontage. The idea of a cantilevered building over the northwest corner of the site was championed by Kunselman as one approach. The city council’s key resolved clause, as adopted at the Mach 17 states:
Resolved, That City Council approve the reservation of the site for an urban public park of between approximately 6,500 and 12,000 square feet on the surface of the Library Lane Structure bounded by the Fifth Avenue sidewalk on the west, the Library Lane Street curb to the south, the western entry to the central elevator to the east, with the northern boundary to be determined at a future date;
Newman said the mayor had made a very interesting proposal of connected green areas on city properties, “which would give a lot of opportunity for gathering and meeting in a public grassy area in a number of locations,” she said. [Mayor John Hieftje made that presentation at the council's March 3, 2014 meeting.] As long as those proposals are being considered, Newman added, it’s really premature to designate the Library Lane site as a park. The library is interested in careful planning of a permanent public space.
At this point, Leary called the question – a procedural move to end debate and force a vote.
Outcome: On a 6-1 vote, the board passed a resolution opposing the city council resolution about designating a portion of the Library Lane site as a park. Nancy Kaplan dissented.
Library Lane Park: City Council Action
Later in the evening, the council did amend its resolution during a lengthy and sometimes heated debate.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) brought forward an amendment to the first resolved clause, describing the site as a public space, publicly owned, of at least 6,500 square feet, with the northern boundary to be determined at a future time. The original resolution, developed by Jack Eaton (Ward 4) in collaboration with the Library Green Conservancy, had designated 12,000 square feet as the size, running across the entire western edge of the Library Lane site, along South Fifth Avenue.
The council’s discussion included remarks by AADL director Josie Parker, who attended the council meeting and was called upon by mayor and other councilmembers to comment. She read aloud the AADL board’s resolution.
In her initial remarks to the council, made at the invitation of mayor John Hieftje during the council’s deliberations, Parker described the current challenges faced by the library in managing its space. She rejected the idea of labeling the problem as one related to the homeless.
And I would just like to point out to all of us here tonight that the public library in Ann Arbor is actually the only public building in the community that is a park within walls. All of the conditions that exist in a public space outside every day exist every day inside the public library.
It takes a lot of money to manage that space in such a way so that everyone there is comfortable, everyone there is safe. And it isn’t about a label. You have not heard me use a word used here tonight multiple times by many of you. You’ve never heard me use that word in expressing concern of the public library board about the existence of a public park next to the public library.
It’s about behavior. Any group that tilts the balance of a public space out of proportion to anyone else in that space can cause a disruption and discomfort. A teenager. A lot of crying babies. Anyone. It is not about a condition. I will say to you this evening, because I’m compelled, some of the most obnoxious behavior exhibited at the public library in Ann Arbor is done by persons who are very well housed, very well fed, and very well educated. It is not about those things. It is just about simply behavior.
Later during the council’s March 17 meeting, Parker was asked again to take the podium by Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5). In her second set of remarks, Parker was more explicit about some of the worst behavior: heroin use. She cited security concerns, and pointed out that the police are already called to the downtown library every three days or so. “We manage it, and you don’t know about it, and that makes it successful,” Parker told the council.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had characterized the AADL board’s position as “fear mongering,” and Parker’s remarks in part responded to that characterization:
There have been five heroin ODs in the public library in the three and half years – the last one in the last five months. This is your public library. Your downtown public library. This is not fear mongering. This is real. … It isn’t about adding a problem, it isn’t about making a problem worse. It’s about acknowledging reality. It’s just a reality.
Most of the issues currently in the public library are drunk and disorderly. … Right now, it’s probably every day that someone is removed from the library by the police department for drunk and disorderly, almost every day. This is your downtown public library. …
We’re not saying “no park.” We’re saying take the time to plan it properly in the context of what is truly occurring downtown. … You have heroin in your community and no one wants to talk about it. It’s being sold in the public library, it’s being used in the public library. And people are being taken out unconscious OD’d in the public library. … We are asking you to think about this again. We are asking you to make sure you have the funds to manage what you’re planning, so it is a success.
I think a park with playground equipment and fountains for the little children who come in and out of the library sounds wonderful. I can’t imagine my child playing in a playground with needles on the ground. Unless someone is cleaning them up every morning, the way they do in Liberty Plaza, that’s what will be there. … We’re asking you to plan the same way, so that if a plaza or park is near the public library, it’s successful.
After about 2.5 hours of discussion, the council voted 7-3 to pass the urban park resolution as amended. Dissenting were mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4). Sally Petersen (Ward 2) was absent.
The council also passed the resolution directing the city administrator to obtain brokerage services and to list the surface of the Library Lane deck for sale. A key “whereas” clause and two of the “resolved” clauses read as follows:
Whereas, Developing the public space at the same time the site is developed will provide for increased activity, safety, and security; limit nuisance behavior at this public space; provide potential funding for public space features and programming; and have a responsible private entity for ongoing maintenance and
Resolved, That the City will seek, as conditions for development rights at a minimum, public open space, private maintenance of the public space, and pedestrian access to the public space as features of any private development;
Resolved, That implementation of the conditions for development rights will be determined by City Council through selection of the purchase offer that best responds to mixed-use, density, integration with surrounding uses, and public space and through the City’s established site plan procedures and policies;
The phrase “public space” sometimes is meant to include publicly-accessible, but privately-owned space. Kunselman responded to an emailed query about his intended interpretation of “public space” by writing: “It’s meant to give the broadest interpretation so as to solicit the widest range of interest by prospective purchasers.”
A report on deliberations at the council meeting is included in The Chronicle’s live updates from city hall during the March 17 meeting.
Downtown Library Entrance
The AADL administration and board have been seriously discussing renovations to the downtown library’s front entrance since the summer of 2013, prompted by concerns about the poor condition of the entrance doors. The board’s facilities committee – Margaret Leary, Jan Barney Newman and Ed Surovell – have been taking the lead from the board’s perspective.
At its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting, the full board was briefed about initial concept designs for the entrance. The project’s architect is InForm Studio, the architecture firm that previously designed AADL’s Traverwood branch.
The entrance would continue to be oriented to South Fifth Avenue, with new doors into the building. The initial plans called for replacing the existing strip of teal panels that wrap around the front of the building – above the doors and windows – with a “concrete skin” panel. Wood paneling would be used in the ceiling of the outside walkway adjacent to the building. Sloping entry walkways would be located on the north side from the Library Lane parking structure and on the south side from William Street, with steps in front leading to South Fifth Avenue. Additional elements include landscaping, a bench, handrails and other features that visually link the library to the adjacent city-owned Library Lane.
One of the most dramatic elements of the original design was a large, translucent sign – made of glass or cast resin – that would be placed between existing brick columns on the north side of the front facade, closest to Library Lane. The idea was for the sign to be lit from the inside, with additional lighting along the walkway, to create a glowing effect. Some board members expressed concerns about that sign and the potential to create security problems, since it would screen a portion of the walkway.
Subsequently, a public forum was held on March 13 to get feedback. At that meeting, new versions of the design were presented that changed the size and location of the sign. Other revisions were made to the front steps and the color of the horizontal strip on the front facade.
Downtown Library Entrance: Facilities Committee Report
At the board’s March 17 meeting, Margaret Leary, chair of the facilities committee, said she wanted to address an issue that was raised during the March 13 public forum to get input on the proposed renovations to the front entrance. Some people had advocated to move the front entrance from the building’s west side, facing South Fifth Avenue, to the north side, facing Library Lane. She said she had previously reported to the board about the facilities committee’s deliberations on that issue. From The Chronicle’s report of the Feb. 17, 2014 meeting:
The first thing that InForm was asked to do, Leary said, was to look at whether the entry should remain at its current orientation, facing South Fifth Avenue on the west, or be moved to the north of the building, facing the Library Lane underground parking structure. Leary noted that a north entrance would have been used if the library had built a new building.
But when the committee considered the consequences of moving the entrance now, in terms of the amount of usable space on the first floor, they decided against it. It would have taken all the space used by the existing teen room, she said, and the entire first floor would have been reorganized, as well as possibly some things in the basement and other floors.
People at the March 13 forum had asked about that decision, Leary noted, so she wanted to expand on the rationale for it. The idea of orienting the entrance to the north first emerged during the city’s planning for the adjacent Library Lane underground parking structure and discussion of the potential development on top of that structure, she said. That discussion was in conjunction with talks about how a potential new AADL building might mesh with whatever might be developed on the Library Lane site. Neither of those two possibilities – a new AADL building, or new buildings on top of the Library Lane structure – appear imminent, Leary said, so the reason for orienting the library’s entrance to the north no longer exists.
Despite these circumstances, Leary continued, the AADL asked InForm Studio last fall to look at the possibility of moving the entrance to the building’s north side. The facilities committee learned that it would not be easy or inexpensive, she said. There are grade changes running in two directions on the site, she explained – from north to south, and east to west. That means that a new entrance on the north side, in order to be accessible, would require using much of the interior of the building on that side, where the teen room is now located. It would require complex structural changes instead of cosmetic changes to the west side.
In addition, putting the entrance to the north would require moving the teen room, Leary said, which would add to the cost and perhaps create a “cascading effect of moves” of other operations within the first floor and possibly the basement.
Leary also pointed out that installing a new entrance to the north would result in a disruption of operations for a significant period. The overall cost of undertaking this project would run into the millions, she said. This is based on AADL’s experience with earlier renovations and with cost estimates obtained in 2010 and 2011 for renovating the building. That compares to an estimated cost of a few hundred thousand dollars for the west entrance renovations, she said.
More importantly, Leary said, renovating the existing entrance will better serve AADL’s current patrons, who arrive from the north, south and west in about equal numbers. Putting the entrance on the north would effectively hide it from patrons arriving from the south or coming from the University of Michigan along William, she said. The improvements to the current entrance will also improve accessibility from the north, Leary said.
The current orientation to the west is appropriate for the library and for adjacent sites, Leary concluded. “An entrance on the north would be both expensive and impractical.”
Downtown Library Entrance: Revised Design
Ken Van Tine, one of the principals from InForm Studio, attended the March 17 meeting to answer questions about the updated version of the design.
Barbara Murphy noted that the board had received several communications about the front entrance. One that struck her in particular was from a2modern, a group created to highlight mid-century modern architecture in Ann Arbor. Members of a2modern feel that any changes to the front will destroy Alden Dow’s original design concept. Her personal view, Murphy said, is that by making two large additions and various other changes over the years, “the building is not what it once was, and it doesn’t have any particular historic value.” She was curious about Van Tine’s opinion on that issue.
Van Tine replied that he had a lot of respect for Alden Dow. Dow was very innovative and progressive for his time, and was always on the forefront of architecture. “Do I think he’d want to stay set in his ways? No, I don’t think he really would,” Van Tine said.
The porcelain panels on the front facade probably aren’t what Dow would have selected if he’d had his choice, Van Tine said. Dow typically used copper, so the selection of porcelain was probably a budget issue – that was Van Tine’s speculation.
The a2modern members had also raised concerns about changing the color of those panels. Van Tine said keeping the same color would be fine. Rebecca Head said her understanding is that the colors have changed significantly over the years – the original color was teal, she said, and now it’s turquoise. Van Tine noted that exposure to the sun plays a big role in changing colors and fading.
Nancy Kaplan reported that Doug Kelbaugh – an architect and professor at the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning – had also spoken at the March 13 forum and had been in favor of keeping the teal porcelain panels. Prue Rosenthal disputed Kaplan’s characterization of Kelbaugh’s remarks, saying it wasn’t about keeping those specific panels. Rather, she said, he objected to the possibility that a new sign would cover part of the panels.
The Chronicle attended the March 13 forum. Here’s what Kelbaugh had to say:
I think this design has a lot of very nice nuances and subtle details that really do enhance the entrance. Speaking to this question of respecting and honoring Alden Dow’s initial intentions and his design, I think people are right to say that this horizontal band is important. I think it’s a distinguishing feature. So I actually don’t think it’s a good idea to put the sign on it, to be honest with you. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s possible to replace the enamel panels in a color that would exactly match. It’s a very tricky technology and I think that to get it to match, particularly as it’s weathered so long, would be difficult. So I think maybe the whole band would have to be done, either in an enamel or some other sympathetic material. So I agree with that.
I too was worried … about the translucent panel blocking and making the ramp up a little too hidden from public view, and I’m wondering if that could be solved simply by making it transparent rather than translucent. Above eye level it could be translucent with a sign, and it could either bleed slowly into transparency or at a line. I think it’s possible to have the original glass pylon in a way that doesn’t interrupt the horizontal band, that is a nice feature without making it a security risk at all.
I think the bench is beautifully designed and the ramp to the south is very elegant as well. I’m wondering if the little triangular piece of grass sticking out … is going to get trampled to death. A lot of people are going to want to turn that corner to go down Library Lane. I would consider pulling that back, which makes the ramp more accessible to everybody, not just people who are physically challenged. I think it’s going to be tough to maintain. I think all of these issues could be addressed and I applaud the library for going ahead.
As for an entrance on the north side, it would be wonderful. I think that awaits a bigger renovation. This is pretty cosmetic. There probably should ultimately be an entrance on the north, but I think at this point it would be premature. It’s quite possible that the future will hold opportunities to make a really good entrance on the north, rather than a sort of compromise one.
At the March 17 AADL board meeting, Kaplan wondered if InForm had revised its design based on suggestions made at the March 13 public forum, especially regarding rails and signs in Braille. Would the board be seeing another iteration?
Margaret Leary responded, saying that the facilities committee had discussed the major items from that forum. The committee has asked AADL director Josie Parker to talk with the architects about three things in particular: (1) the addition of a second handrail; (2) signs; and (3) the front bench. The architects haven’t been specifically been asked to do anything yet, Leary said.
Van Tine said he’s aware of some of the issues but there aren’t any new designs yet. “What we’ve done so far is very conceptual,” he added. “There’s nothing written in stone.” Everything is very flexible at this point.
Murphy asked about maintaining access during construction. Would the current front entrance remain open? Van Tine replied that they’d likely close off half of the entrance, but the other half would remain open.
In terms of process, Leary said that InForm will develop a new plan after talking with Parker, and that plan will be reviewed by the facilities committee before coming to the board for approval.
Outcome: This was not a voting item.
EPIC-MRA Survey Results
Bernie Porn, president of EPIC-MRA, gave a presentation to the board about results from a recent survey conducted for the library.
By way of background, at its Jan. 20, 2014 meeting, the board had approved a budget adjustment of $25,000 for a satisfaction survey of 500-600 library district residents, to be conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA.
The library previously did a survey in early 2012, in part to gauge public support for financing a new downtown library. The board later put a bond proposal on the November 2012 ballot to fund a new downtown building, but it failed to receive a majority of votes.
In general, the new survey measured the public’s recognition of AADL’s products and services, the regard for AADL as a public institution in the region, and the avenues by which people obtain information about the library. Results will help inform the library’s next long-term strategic plan. The current strategic plan runs through 2015.
In presenting the summary on March 17, Porn described it as “a great news poll, in terms of results, and I think you all should be very, very proud.” There are a couple areas of concern, he added, “but they’re not the kinds of things that can’t be overcome.” [.pdf of 2014 survey results] [.pdf of 2014 results compared to 2012]
The 500-sample survey was conducted between Feb. 9-15. The process involved randomly selecting commercially listed telephone numbers as well as cell phone numbers, stratified so that each area of the district in terms of population was reflected in the sample. It’s a plus-or-minus 4.4 error rate, with a 95% confidence level. Participants were adult residents of the Ann Arbor Public Schools district, which has the same boundaries as AADL. Porn noted that the survey didn’t screen for registered voters. Of all respondents, 63% were residents of Ann Arbor, 20% were residents of Pittsfield Township, and 17% were residents of all other parts of the district.
Key survey findings include:
- Since 2012, the positive job rating for AADL providing library services increased by 7 points – from 81% in 2012 to 88% in 2014. That’s a significant increase, Porn said.
- There was a 17 point increase in the percentage of households that use AADL facilities/programs – from 61% in 2012 to 78% in 2014.
- Only 3 in 10 respondents knew that AADL is “an independent governmental body” funded by its own separate tax assessment. This is one area of concern, Porn noted, but it’s certainly something that’s solvable.
- Only 2 in 10 households had no members who use any AADL facilities or services.
- Nearly half of households with no members who used AADL said the top reason for not using it was “having the Internet at home” or “getting everything they need online.”
- Top AADL services used were: book loans (35%); DVD-video (13%); and Internet access (6%).
- Less that 3 in 10 knew that AADL subscribes to databases and online services like Brainfuse Homework Help, Ancestry.com and Reference USA Business Databases.
- More than 6 in 10 were aware of the events, exhibits and classes described to them. Among those who were aware, 3 in 4 said one or more household members attended such events or activities, and 58% offered the highest satisfaction rating.
- The best ways respondents said to communicate with them is e-mail, the AADL website, direct mail and newspapers.
- 12% said the “library” is a local government service that provides the most value for taxes paid, with “school-education” (20%) and “police-public safety” (13%) scoring higher.
- With the growth of computers and the Internet, 52% said libraries are about the same importance as before, 35% said libraries are more important, with 13% saying less important.
Porn’s presentation, which lasted about 45 minutes, reviewed these and other results in more detail, including a demographic breakdown of responses. [.pdf of EPIC-MRA presentation]
When respondents were asked about the level of taxes for all government services – a standard question in all surveys, Porn said – 29% said that taxes were too high, while 57% said taxes were “about right” and 6% indicated taxes were “too low.” He said that when “too high” responses are over 30%, it indicates that taxpayers are less persuadable for a tax increase. Taxpayers are most receptive when responses are in the teens or low-20s, he said. Tax proposals are very difficult to pass when percentages of “too high” responses are in the 40% range or higher.
Barbara Murphy said she was “flabbergasted” by the number of respondents who said taxes were about right or too low. “That’s not who comments in the newspaper,” she said.
Porn then showed responses about the level of taxes specifically for AADL. Of respondents, 16% indicated that taxes were too high for AADL, compared to 67% who said taxes were about right and 11% who said taxes for AADL were too low. “People see value clearly from the taxes they pay for their library,” he said.
Porn showed demographic breakdown for respondents who said that taxes for AADL were too high. Highlights included: 26% were age 50 or older with no college education; 35% said they didn’t use libraries or used libraries other than AADL; 37% thought taxes were too high in general for local government/schools; 22% thought AADL was part of city government, used the library few times a year, or have incomes over $100,000.
“You can target these groups and provide educational information that may help them feel less negative toward taxes,” Porn said. He added that those weren’t really negative numbers.
Porn reviewed how respondents thought AADL was funded: 30% knew that AADL was an independent governmental body with its own separate property tax assessment. But 23% thought AADL was a division of Ann Arbor city government and paid for from tax revenue received by the city, and 12% thought it was part of the Ann Arbor public schools and funded from tax dollars allocated to the local school operating budget.
“The problem that you run into because of this uncertainty is that when you do have a situation in the future … when you’re looking at renewing taxes or increasing taxes for services, if people feel that you’re competing with other levels of government and not an entity unto yourself, that can cause them to think that a vote for the library is taking something away from these other people that they inaccurately believe are a source of your funding,” Porn said. “That is probably the one thing in the survey that you need to address – and I think it can be addressed with branding and information that your communications folks can put together.”
By way of background, in 1994, Proposal A changed the state law so that public school systems could no longer operate public libraries using the school millage. When that happened, the Ann Arbor Public Schools and city of Ann Arbor moved to form the Ann Arbor District Library as a separate entity. In 1995, voters approved the establishment of the AADL with an independent governing board. At the same time, voters authorized a 2.0 mill tax in perpetuity to operate the library system – the millage does not require renewal. Due to the state’s Headlee Amendment, that 2.0 mills has been rolled back over the years to about 1.92 mills, which is now the maximum amount that AADL can levy each year. However, the library currently levies only a portion of that amount – 1.55 mills. The millage rate is authorized each year as part of the library’s budget cycle. The AADL did seek a separate 30-year millage in 2012 as part of a bond proposal to build a new downtown library. A majority of voters rejected that initiative.
Ed Surovell wondered if there was any correlation between home ownership and the understanding about how AADL is funded. Porn replied that the survey didn’t ask whether respondents were renters or homeowners. Porn said he’d be in favor of asking that question in future surveys.
Margaret Leary noted that last fall, the city of Ann Arbor had paid for a survey by an outside agency that does surveys nationwide for municipalities. It provided comparative information to other cities. [National Citizens Survey was conducted for the city in the fall of 2013 by mailing a questionnaire to a random sample of 3,000 city residents, 778 of whom completed surveys. .pdf of draft Ann Arbor National Citizens Survey report and .pdf of responses, benchmarks, methodology and questionnaire]
Porn described that type of survey as, to a large extent, a “cookie cutter survey that does not give a great deal of customization.” Leary said she understood that, but in exchange you get comparative data.
Leary asked how Porn would compare the accuracy and validity of surveys like the National Citizens Survey and the EPIC-MRA survey to a SurveyMonkey survey with self-selected respondents that didn’t monitor how many times any individual could respond, and that didn’t let the entire community know about it.
Porn replied that self-selection leads to the same phenomenon as people who write to their legislators – people who are passionate about a particular issue, either for or against it.
Leary asked a more pointed question: Can you make public policy based on a SurveyMonkey survey? Porn indicated that it was not a good idea to do that.
Outcome: This was not a voting item.
Bike Share Agreement
The CEC is managing a new bike share program called ArborBike, which is launching this spring. It would include a bike station on AADL’s downtown library property on South Fifth Avenue, as well as locations at other sites in downtown Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. There will be about 14 bikes at the downtown AADL station on the north side of its property.
The AADL board had been briefed on the program at their Aug. 19, 2013 meeting, and received an update about the agreement on Feb. 17, 2014. The library has been waiting for the University of Michigan to finalize its agreement with the CEC, before moving forward with an agreement that would require board approval.
Margaret Leary, chair of the board’s facilities committee, reported that the committee had met earlier in the day and supported the agreement. The library’s attorney has reviewed the agreement and has stated that it is fair and protects the library from liability issues, she said. The agreement also has adequate provisions for the library to get out of it if necessary, Leary noted. The bike share program seems like a good use of the downtown facility, she concluded. She added that the library’s own bike racks might be moved, but won’t be eliminated.
Rebecca Head said she’s thrilled that this is happening. UM has already signed an agreement, she noted, “and when the university feels that liability issues are taken care of, I think the Ann Arbor District Library can also feel like the liability issues have been taken care of.”
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the bike share agreement.
The board has seven committees: communications, budget and finance, facilities, policy, director’s evaluation, executive, and strategic plan. Because membership on each committee consists of only three trustees, which is less than a quorum of the board, the meetings are not required to be open to the public under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. The board has the option of making its committee meetings open to the public, but has chosen not to do so.
On March 17, three committee reports were given – facilities, strategic plan, and communications. The facilities and communications reports are included in other sections of this article.
Committee Reports: Strategic Plan
Nancy Kaplan, chair of the strategic plan committee, reported that the committee met on Feb. 25. Other committee members are Rebecca Head and Barbara Murphy. They discussed the history of AADL’s strategic initiatives, and the process of developing an updated strategic plan. The current strategic plan runs through 2015.
She quoted from the introduction to the 2004-2010 strategic plan, which describes it as “a guide that helps inform decisions and focus energy. It does not supercede current policies or any laws governing district library practices. It is a flexible, living document that will be visible and updated annually.”
With that in mind, Kaplan said, the committee decided to keep the current strategic initiatives. Each initiative includes goals and projects, so those will be updated with input from staff and a citizens survey, she said. The committee’s next meeting is on April 21. The committee’s charge is to finish its work by December, she noted, “and we plan to do that.”
Each month, the board is provided with library statistics in five categories: Collections, users, visits, usage and participation. The data is compared to year-ago figures, when available.
Ken Nieman – the library’s associate director of finance, HR and operations – gave a brief report on the February 2014 financial statements. [.pdf of financial report]
Through Feb. 28, the library has received 97.6% of its budgeted tax receipts. The library had $11.9 million in unrestricted cash at the end of February, with a fund balance of $8.44 million.
Three line items – purchased services, software, and copier expenses – are over budget, but are expected to come back in line by the end of AADL’s fiscal year on June 30, according to Nieman.
Nieman also noted that during February, the library received $40,000 from the nonprofit Friends of the AADL, which raises money primarily by operating a used bookshop in the basement of the downtown library.
Board discussion was brief. Margaret Leary said she wanted to underscore the generosity of FAADL. Every year, the group gives the library at least $100,000 in total, she noted. Rebecca Head agreed, saying that the board is very appreciative. Jan Barney Newman praised FAADL’s work at marketing and operating the bookshop.
Only one person spoke during public commentary on March 17. Zach Steindler told the board he was a resident of Ann Arbor, and he thanked the library for providing such excellent service.
He said he was a small business owner, and he knows that their work is often a very thankless job. [Steindler is co-founder of Olark.com.]
Steindler said he uses AADL about 4-5 times a month. “I might not be the most frequent user, but I think it’s pretty great,” he said.
Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell.
Next regular meeting: Monday, April 21, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]
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