Carola Stearns hadn’t planned on being an Ann Arbor District Library board member, but a set of circumstances converged to put her on the board at one of its most crucial times in recent history, helping guide a major building project that could transform part of downtown Ann Arbor.
Stearns was appointed to the AADL board in early August, following the resignation of Jean King, who was elected in May. King – a veteran attorney and women’s rights activist – resigned in mid-July, citing her inability to be available for board meetings in person.
According to Michigan statute and library bylaws, the board can appoint a new member to fill a vacated spot, but with a term of only two years instead of four. To do so, the board formed a special nominating committee of Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell and Margaret Leary, who served as its chair. They solicited names from other board members and brought their own suggestions to the table as well. In all, they considered about 15 people. Of those, they talked to three or four, including Stearns, who was nominated by Rosenthal.
Leary says that filling the vacancy quickly with a qualified person was important because of looming decisions on whether to renovate or rebuild the downtown library. “We needed someone who could get up to speed quickly, and rather than turn to the several talented former board members in the community, we preferred to find someone who would be new to the board to bring new perspective,” Leary said.
They wanted to find someone in time for their August retreat, Leary said, when the board was briefed on information crucial to the building project. If none of the candidates had been acceptable, she added, they would have extended the search process. “We got lucky this time,” she said.
Stearns’ strong community ties and training as a geologist were what set her apart from other candidates, Leary said. The latter is important, she said, as the board considers whether to use a geothermal system for heating and cooling if it proceeds with a new downtown building.
Stearns has two graduate degrees from the University of Michigan, including a Ph.D. in geology. She worked in the oil industry in Texas for several years before returning to Ann Arbor in the early 1990s. Over the years she has taught a variety of topics at UM as a lecturer, including environmental geology and “climate and mankind” courses.
She’s not teaching this year, however. She recently moved her elderly father to town and also has a 16-year-old daughter in high school, so “it’s a good time for me to be underemployed,” she said.
It was also a good time to take on the added responsibility of serving on the library board. “It’s such an important part of the community,” she said.
Her current term on the board is up in 2010, and when that expires, she’s made a commitment to run for a regular four-year term. Meanwhile, she says, “I’m doing lots of homework.”
What was her biggest surprise since becoming a board member? Learning what bad shape the current downtown building is in – and she doesn’t believe the general public is truly aware of its condition.
What branch is closest to home? Traverwood, but her daughter likes to come to the downtown location. For teenagers, “it’s a lot better than going to the mall,” Stearns says.
What’s she reading? After returning from a trip to Turkey in May, “I’m still trying to read a biography of (Mustafa Kemal) Atatürk,” Turkey’s first president. “It’s a little dry.”