Ann Arbor Library Board Begins New Year

State funding a question mark for popular programs
Rebecca Head, left, was elected to her second term as president of the Ann Arbor District Library board.

Rebecca Head, left, was elected to her second term as president of the Ann Arbor District Library board at Monday's meeting. To the right are board members Jan Barney Newman, re-elected as vice president, and Prue Rosenthal, re-elected as treasurer. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (July 20, 2009): The board’s annual meeting unfolded with a light agenda, including the re-election of officers and some reflections on the past year by board president Rebecca Head.

Josie Parker, AADL’s director, gave an update on how the state budget crisis could affect the Ann Arbor library – the negative impact lies more in  services rather than in funding. The board also set its meeting agenda for the coming year – and unlike some boards, such as the University of Michigan regents, the AADL trustees don’t take off the month of August.

We’ll begin with Parker’s report on the potential impact of state funding decisions.

State Budget Impact

During her director’s report, Josie Parker discussed the implications of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s recent executive order abolishing the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, of which the Library of Michigan is a part.

For several years, AADL hasn’t included revenue from the state when preparing its budget, although they’ve continued to receive state funding. This was a cautious approach taken because of the uncertainty of funding, and Parker said that if state aid is cut, AADL will be able to absorb the loss.

Some of the services AADL patrons use could be at risk, however. AADL participates in the Michigan Electronic Library Catalog, a system known as MeLCat. It’s funded in part by the state library, and allows member libraries throughout Michigan to share materials. As Parker discussed at the June board meeting, funding for MeLCat is in jeopardy, in part because the formula for receiving federal funds is based on how much state funding is allotted to the program. So if state funding is cut, federal funding will likely be lost too. This would be a potentially huge impact to library patrons, she said – it’s a popular service.

The Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which AADL took over from Washtenaw County earlier this year, could also be affected. Parker said she was uncertain about the future of state services for the blind and physically disabled, which are being shifted from the Library of Michigan to the state Commission for the Blind – part of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. The commission’s mission isn’t even remotely related to library services for the blind and physically disabled, she said – it focuses on research to prevent blindness, vocational training and independent living services. Parker said she couldn’t find the word “literacy” on their website, nor anything about services for the disabled. She’s also concerned because the Commission for the Blind faces cuts, too, just at the time it’s being given the additional responsibility for these specialized library services.

Catalog Page Survey

Parker also reported on an optional survey the staff is conducting on the AADL website’s catalog page. As of July 1, they’d received about 4,500 responses from just over 600 people (with the average respondent answering roughly 7 of the 9 questions). The questions are geared to reveal how users navigate the site, and Parker said she’d been told by Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director for IT and production, that results were affirming the site design. The online survey is a trial, she said, but it could be used to seek feedback  in other areas.


Associate director Ken Nieman reported that the library’s auditors will be coming during the week of Aug. 31. By the end of their fiscal year on June 30, AADL had received 100% of their budgeted tax revenue. The library’s fund balance stood at $6.8 million. For its operating budget, the library finished the year with a positive balance of $455,000.

Trustee Barbara Murphy asked whether they’d have to refund any of the tax revenues the library had already received, due to taxpayers successfully appealing their property tax assessments. That’s possible, Nieman said – they regularly receive notices about decisions made by tax tribunals, requiring that the library return tax dollars it has already received. They actually work that into the budget, he said, setting aside about $30,000 annually to cover those paybacks. “Obviously this year it was much more, and most of that was Pfizer,” he said. [Pfizer challenged the city's property tax assessment following its decision to close its Ann Arbor research campus. The drugmaker reached a settlement earlier this year requiring local taxing authorities, including the library, to return a portion of the taxes that Pfizer had already paid.]

Election of Officers

Earlier in the meeting, the board elected officers for the new fiscal year, which began July 1 – or in this case, re-elected officers to their existing posts: Rebecca Head, president; Jan Barney Newman, vice president; Prue Rosenthal, treasurer; and Margaret Leary, secretary.

Head reminded the board that their bylaws allow officers to serve in the same position for only two years.

Looking Back: A “Roller Coaster Ride”

Following a tradition of the annual meeting, board president Rebecca Head gave a “state of the library” report, looking back on a year that she described as a “roller coaster ride.” Last July began with the completion of their “uniquely designed” Traverwood branch, she said. [The building won a design award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Michigan earlier this year.]

A year ago they were also in the midst of deliberation about the future of the downtown building, envisioning it as an anchor to meet the community’s current and emerging needs. That was all good, she said, but “it just wasn’t quite in line with the blast we got from the economy.” So they paused that project late last year, knowing they could reactivate it. Since then, the building has shown signs of its age, Head noted, citing the demise of some air handlers and the freight elevator.

The fiscal year also brought the addition of the Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which was previously the responsibility of Washtenaw County government. Head commended AADL’s staff for making the transition. She also noted that more recently, the board continued to respond to economic conditions by deciding to lower its millage rate from 1.92 to 1.55 for the current fiscal year.

They’ll need to continue to focus on the future, she said, as their current strategic plan expires in 2010 and they consider where they want to go from there.

Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Josie Parker, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns.

Absent: Ed Surovell.

Next meeting: Monday, Aug. 17, 2009 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. By Margaret Wolfe
    July 24, 2009 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    I would like to correct Josie Parker’s comment quoted in the story: “Parker said she couldn’t find the word ‘literacy’ on their website, nor anything about services for the disabled.” In fact, literacy is a major component of programs and services offered to Michigan residents by the Michigan Commission for the Blind. It is also a fact that a large number of Commission clients have multiple disabilities, contrary to Ms. Parker’s assertion that the Commission does not provide services to people with disabilities. To learn about literacy-related skills offered to students at the Commission’s Training Center in Kalamazoo including Braille, communications, computer
    familiarization, computer training, and handwriting please visit the MCB website.

    Margaret Wolfe, Ann Arbor