Survey Helps Downtown Library Planning

Also: Draft FY 2012-13 AADL budget has 1% more in tax revenues

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (April 16, 2012): As previously reported by The Chronicle, a new survey commissioned by the Ann Arbor District Library indicates voter support for a tax increase to pay for major renovations or reconstruction of the downtown building at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

Downtown Ann Arbor library building at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

View of the downtown Ann Arbor library building at 343 S. Fifth Ave., from the corner of Fifth and William. The orange cones are tied to construction of what's tentatively called the Library Lane parking structure, being built by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Library staff and board members are again discussing whether to renovate or rebuild this main library location. (Photos by the writer.)

At the board’s April meeting on Monday, AADL director Josie Parker summarized results of the phone survey, which was conducted in early March by the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA. It included 400 responses. She noted that the library’s five-year strategic plan, approved by the board in 2010, includes an initiative related to the downtown building.

The survey indicated that if a vote were taken today – on funding a $65 million renovation or new construction project with a property tax increase of 0.69 mills – 45% of survey respondents would vote yes, and another 15% would lean toward a yes vote. That compares with a total of 37% who said they would either vote no or lean toward no.

Support was even stronger among survey respondents for scaled-back options with lower tax increases. [.pdf of survey results]

“This is a beginning, but it’s a very positive beginning after a long four years,” Parker said, referring to the board’s decision in 2008 to halt redevelopment of the downtown building because of faltering economic conditions.

Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to appoint a three-member special facilities committee, charged with making recommendations to the full board.

The April 16 meeting also included a presentation of the draft 2012-2013 budget, for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012. The budget is based on levying 1.55 mills – unchanged from the current levy, but below the 1.92 mills that the district is authorized to collect.

The budget anticipates tax revenues of $11.203 million for fiscal 2012-13, representing a 1% increase in tax revenues compared to the current projection of $11.091 million for fiscal 2011-12. The overall FY 2012-13 budget revenues – including tax revenue, state aid and other revenue sources – is $12.254 million, compared to the current budget of $12.191 million.

The board is expected to vote on the budget at its May 21 meeting. That meeting is also expected to include a public hearing on the budget, as well as a formal director’s evaluation and renewal of a space use agreement with the Friends of the AADL, which operates a used bookstore in the downtown library’s lower level.

Downtown Library Building

Two items at the April 16 meeting related to ongoing consideration of a possible new or renovated downtown building: (1) a report on the recent survey commissioned by AADL;  and (2) formal formation of a special facilities committee.

By way of background, several years ago the AADL board had spent months evaluating the condition of the downtown building – located at 343 S. Fifth Ave. – and working with the local firm Luckenbach Ziegelman Architects on designing a new structure. But in late 2008 the board voted to suspend redevelopment of the downtown building, citing the shaky economy. [See Chronicle coverage: "Citing Economy, Board Halts Library Project."]

The topic has been addressed at subsequent AADL board meetings: “New Downtown Library? If, When and Where,” and “Board Renews Library Building Discussion.” And in November 2011, the board took a concrete step, voting to provide $45,000 in funding for consultants to help resume the process of possibly redeveloping that downtown building. The building is located south of the city’s new underground parking structure, which is being built by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and is now tentatively named the Library Lane Parking Structure.

During her director’s report at this week’s board meeting, AADL director Josie Parker said she wanted to alert the board to a change made in the library’s five-year strategic plan, which the board had adopted in 2010 and which runs through 2015. She noted that the plan is intended as a guide, and has been updated based on changing conditions – for example, changes in electronic publishing or demand for special collections.

One initiative in the plan’s section on facilities relates to the downtown building, Parker said. The plan includes this goal: “Renovate or replace the downtown library with attention to the condition of the existing building; tax base; revenue stream; development of surrounding properties and demographics.”

The library had commissioned the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA to conduct a phone survey regarding attitudes toward the library’s services and facilities. The survey was conducted from March 3-5, 2012 and reflects a sample of 400 responses, with a margin of error of ±4.9%.

Parker said she was pleased that the results showed that this community continues to highly value education and learning, and the position that the AADL holds in contributing to that isn’t questioned. Even in the era of the Internet, the library is considered as relevant as ever, and many people felt it was more relevant, she said.

Josie Parker

Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker

The survey also revealed that people would be willing to spend more to ensure that this community and its future generations continue to have library services, Parker said. That’s very positive, she added – and it would have been impossible to guess that outcome, given the economy.

The questions on the survey had been very explicit regarding funding for a new or renovated downtown facility, Parker said.

If a vote were taken now – on funding a $65 million renovation or new construction project with a property tax increase of 0.69 mills – 45% of survey respondents would vote yes, and another 15% would lean toward a yes vote. That compares with a total 37% who said they would either vote no or lean toward no. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value for a property. [.pdf of survey results]

The survey also asked about support if the project were scaled back, requiring an 0.51 mill increase or an 0.25 mill increase. In those cases, the project received favorable support (yes or leaning to yes) of 61% and 72%, respectively. Results from the survey also indicated an 82% positive rating of the current downtown facility (41% excellent and 42% pretty good). Those who indicated a negative perception of the downtown building cited construction (20%), parking (20%) and “needs upgrades” (15%) as the main reasons for that perception.

Parker stressed that no decision has been made about the downtown building, and that not even a timeframe for making a decision has been determined. ”This is a beginning, but it’s a very positive beginning after a long four years,” she said.

There was no discussion among board members following Parker’s remarks at the board meeting.

Earlier in the month, at a partnerships committee meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Parker had described to committee members the role of the downtown location as an anchor institution for that area of downtown – generating around 600,000 visits annually. Depending on the choices that are made on the future of a downtown AADL facility, she raised the possibility that the figure could substantially increase, perhaps even double.

Downtown Library Building: Special Facilities Committee

Later in the meeting, the board was asked to appoint formally a special facilities committee. The committee includes AADL board members Prue Rosenthal (chair), Ed Surovell and Nancy Kaplan. At the board’s March 19 meeting, Rosenthal reported that the group had already met informally with library staff.

The committee’s charge is to gather information and make a recommendation to the board about AADL’s facilities, including but not limited to a review of information that was collected in the past regarding the condition of the downtown building. The term of the committee is through 2012.

There was no discussion among board members on this resolution.

Outcome: The board unanimously appointed the special facilities committee.

Budget & Finance

There were two presentations at the April 16 meeting related to budget and finance: (1) a monthly financial report, and (2) a report of the draft 2012-13 budget, which the board will be asked to approve in May.

Ken Nieman,  associate director of finance, human resources and operations,  gave both reports. In summarizing the monthly financial results as of March 31, he described it as a normal month. The unrestricted cash balance was $10.49 million, with an operating surplus of $339,229 and a fund balance of $8.05 million. The library has received nearly 98% of its budgeted tax receipts for the year, he reported. [.pdf of March 2012 financial report]

The three line items that are over budget – materials, software licenses and supplies – are expected to fall back in line with budgeted amounts by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Nieman also noted that the library has received $40,873 in state aid so far this year – about half of what it expects to get by the end of the fiscal year.

Board members had no questions or comments about the monthly financial report.

Budget & Finance: Draft 2012-13 Budget

Nieman also summarized a draft of the budget for the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. [.pdf of draft budget]

The budget had been reviewed by the board’s budget and finance committee, chaired by Barbara Murphy. At the board’s March 2012 meeting, another committee member, Ed Surovell, had reported that although the committee typically reviewed the budget in March, there were too many unknowns regarding revenue sources and a draft budget hadn’t yet been developed at that time. Those uncertainties related to local property taxes, personal property taxes, and penal fines.

Subsequently, more information became available, including the county’s preliminary equalization report, which is the basis for determining taxable value of property in the county and in turn indicates how much tax revenue is collected by local taxing entities.

During her committee report, Murphy praised the staff for their work. She noted that the budget is able to increase some line items – including employee salary and benefits – while still collecting an amount lower than the library is authorized to levy. AADL’s millage rate for the current fiscal year is 1.55 mills – below the 1.92 mills that the district is authorized to levy.

Based on collection of that same 1.55 mill tax, the 2012-13 budget anticipates tax revenues of $11.203 million for fiscal 2012-13, compared to the current budget projection of $11.091 million for fiscal 2011-12. That represents a 1% increase in tax revenues. The overall FY 2012-13 budget revenues – including tax revenue, state aid and other revenue sources – is $12.254 million, compared to the current budget of $12.191 million.

Nieman noted that in recent years, because of the uncertainty of state funding for public libraries, the AADL has not included that revenue in developing its budget. For the coming fiscal year, however, funding seems more certain and the budget includes a projected $80,000 in state aid.

On the expense side, employee benefits are budgeted to increase from $1.476 million this year to $1.565 million in the next fiscal year. In part, that reflects an increase in the amount that AADL must contribute to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) – from 24.46% this year to 27.37%. The proposed budget also includes a 3% merit raise pool for employees. In recent years, there has been no increase in merit pay.

In addition to the budget for 2012-13, the library finance staff is projecting a surplus of $292,025 for the current fiscal year.

Budget & Finance: Draft 2012-13 Budget – Board Discussion

There was little discussion among board members. Prue Rosenthal asked for clarification of the revenue line item called “grants and memorials,” which is budgeted for $90,000 in FY 2012-13. The library expects to receive $122,551 from that revenue source in the current fiscal year.

Nieman explained that the main source is from the Friends of the AADL. The library typically receives more from FAADL, as well as from other gifts, but the projection is for $90,000.

Nieman concluded by saying that the budget might need to be revised based on final estimates of tax revenues. AADL director Josie Parker also noted that the budget is an estimate. She’d held a staff meeting earlier in the day focused on the budget that was attended by about 85 employees. The staff understands that this is an estimate, too, she said.

The board is expected to vote on the FY 2012-13 budget at its May 21 meeting. In a resolution related to that meeting, board members set a public hearing on the budget for that meeting.

Outcome: Board members unanimously voted to set a public hearing on the 2012-13 budget for its May 21, 2012 meeting.

Director’s Report: Friends of the AADL

In addition to her comments regarding the EPIC-MRA survey, Josie Parker briefed the board on the space use agreement with Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL), a nonprofit that operates a used bookstore in the lower level of AADL’s downtown branch at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Proceeds of the store are given to the library.

At its May 2011 meeting, the AADL board approved a one-year extension to the space use agreement. [.pdf file of FAADL space use agreement] Parker said she plans to bring another one-year extension to the board’s May 21 meeting for approval.

Parker reported that she’d met with FAADL president Pat McDonald to talk about the agreement. McDonald is taking the agreement to the FAADL board to make sure there’s nothing they want to change, but it’s not expected that there will be any revisions, Parker said. This process has become a normal annual routine, she added.

FAADL is doing well, Parker said – door count numbers and revenues are up, as is membership. That’s good for them and good for the library, she said.

During his finance report, Ken Nieman – associate director of finance, human resources and operations – told the board that the library expects to get about $90,000 annually from FAADL.

Director’s Evaluation

Board president Margaret Leary reported that the director’s evaluation committee, which she chairs, had met to discuss the annual evaluation of AADL director Josie Parker. Committee members – Leary, Prue Rosenthal and Jan Barney Newman – had reviewed Parker’s self-evaluation and had discussed it with her.

In executive session at the April 16 meeting, the board as a whole had discussed the evaluation with Parker, Leary said. Leary added that she’ll bring a formal public letter regarding the evaluation to the May 21 meeting.

Public Library Associates

In March, Celeste Choate  – associate director of services, collections and access – and DeAnn Doll, manager of human resources, spoke on a panel at the Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia. The panel focused on the development of the next generation of librarians, and highlighted AADL’s public library associate (PLA) program.

At the April 16 meeting, Choate gave a brief presentation to the board about the PLA program. PLAs are paid part-time positions filled by graduate students who are working on degrees in library science or related fields. The program began about 10 years ago as a partnership with the University of Michigan’s School of Information, focused on providing jobs, training and mentoring to minority students. It has evolved into a broader program and now includes relationships with Wayne State University and several online institutions.

AADL hires eight PLAs each year, working in different areas of the library, including the youth/adult services department, IT and production, and outreach. They typically work for 9 to 18 months, although one position is reserved for a student supported with a full scholarship at UM, who works as a PLA for two years.

Choate said the program provides opportunities for the students to learn the profession, but it also benefits AADL and therefore the public that AADL serves.

PLAs have gone on to jobs in the Library of Congress and other libraries nationwide. AADL has also hired some former PLAs as full-time staff after they’ve graduated, Choate said.

AADL director Josie Parker noted that the PLAs often get more experience than in a traditional job. Some of them manage small budgets, or develop programming. She noted that some have served on selection review committees, which are formed when the choice of material at the library is questioned or criticized. That’s something many people never have the opportunity to do in their career, she said.

The AADL pays for PLAs out of its operational budget, Parker said – there’s no grant money to support the program. [Responding to a later email query from The Chronicle, Parker reported that $90,000 is budgeted annually for the PLAs. She noted that these are positions that the library would need to fill even if the program didn't exist.]

In response to a question from Nancy Kaplan, Choate explained that some PLAs get academic credit for their work, but it’s not automatic.

Kaplan also asked about the difference between PLAs and interns. Parker noted that unlike PLAs, interns don’t work directly with the public – interns wouldn’t staff a reference desk or lead a children’s storytime program, for example. Also, internships are not paid positions. PLAs are paid and take advantage of the professional development opportunities available to regular staff, Choate said.

Jan Barney Newman asked how many libraries have this kind of program. Not many, Choate said. It’s even rarer for a library to support it without being reliant on grant funding, Parker added.

Margaret Leary commented on the benefits of working with students who can bring new ideas and creativity to the library, while learning from experienced staff. She also noted that it’s an example of AADL taking advantage of UM’s outstanding School of Information.

Given that AADL gets contacted by other libraries across the country that are interested in the program, Kaplan encouraged Choate to write an article about it for a professional journal.

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

Absent: Rebecca Head.

Next meeting: Monday, May 21, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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  1. By ScratchingmyHead
    April 19, 2012 at 8:30 am | permalink

    The informal survey conducted by indicated that among its readership, the majority of those who commented does not support this bond proposal and have some serious questions about it or need convincing that a new library is needed especially downtown. The usership of libraries are changing as a result of the electronic age and books in the future may not be how people inform or entertain themselves. AAPS is asking voters to approve a tech mileage because they are looking to upgrade their capability which includes offering on line classes which probably means less usership of the library in it present form. Therefore, before the Library Board rush to action, they should do a through job of determining exactly what the needs of the community will be.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 19, 2012 at 11:51 am | permalink

    “Support was even stronger among survey respondents for scaled-back options with lower tax increases. [.pdf of survey results]”

    Which was missing from the story completely. Thanks to the Chronicle for once again covering the entire story.

  3. By Eric
    April 22, 2012 at 7:59 am | permalink

    For more than a generation I have used various libraries in this area. It is increasingly obvious that they are dying on the vine. The five year strategic plan should expect a 50% or more decrease in core function library use in that frame. Time to plan on phasing the libraries out. Stop all hiring, let the buildings run down, they will be like Border’s stores soon.
    Income tax time (April is the cruelest month) provides a snapshot of the libraries decline. Thirty years ago libraries had tables full of tax forms and instructions, most of the tables were full of busy desperate people working on their taxes, there were lines at the photocopy machines. This year at Mallet’s Creek I had to ask three employees where the forms were. One did not know what they were. As it turns out there is a small forlorn table with only the most common forms hidden away by the rest rooms. The reasons are obvious. TurboTax, the availability of tax forms on the internet and home printers with photocopying function.
    On that visit there were many people at Mallet’s but almost all of them are just playing on computers. It is like a Starbucks without coffee. Why should the tax payers support this?