AADL To Hire Communications Consultant

Allerton-Hill to develop communications plan & audit for Ann Arbor District Library; also, board committee preps for FY 2013-14 budget

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (March 18, 2013): Several items during the AADL board’s most recent meeting related to the issue of communications.

Eli Neiburger, Prue Rosenthal, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production, talks with AADL board president Prue Rosenthal in the small room off of the fourth-floor boardroom. The former closet is used as a studio for podcasting. (Photos by the writer.)

Nancy Kaplan, chair of the board’s new communications committee, announced that AADL will hire Allerton-Hill Consulting to do a communications audit and plan for the library, to be completed this year. The decision was made in consultation with AADL director Josie Parker, Kaplan said. It didn’t require a board vote because the amount of the contract is the maximum for not triggering board approval: $28,000. Contracts for purchases over that amount must be authorized by the board.

Board president Prue Rosental, in supporting the decision, noted that during the campaign to pass a bond for a new downtown library – which voters rejected on Nov. 6, 2012 – library advocates learned that “people in the community didn’t know what we do and how well we do it.”

Some of those “what we do” activities were highlighted during two presentations at the meeting: (1) an overview of AADL podcasts produced by staff and patrons; and (2) a report from Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production, about his recent trip to Germany as a guest of the U.S. State Department and Zukunftswerkstatt (“Future Workshop”), visiting libraries in several cities. The head of the Zukunftswerkstatt was interested in using AADL’s efforts as a model to get German libraries more involved with younger communities, using gaming and other activities. As a result of the partnership with AADL, a dozen libraries in Germany have started running events through the GT System, which AADL staff developed. A league tournament is being held, and three winners will come to Ann Arbor for the May 19 German-American Gaming League Championships, held at the AADL.

Communications was also a topic during public commentary. Libby Hunter, a member of the Protect Our Libraries political action committee, urged the board to be more open and transparent, asking them to allow the public to attend committee meetings, to videotape their meetings for broadcast on Community Television Network, and to explain their use of closed sessions in relation to the Michigan Open Meetings Act. And Don Salberg asked for more information related to the condition of the downtown library, and for details on the board’s rationale for wanting a larger building on that same site.

Also during public commentary, Stewart Gordon spoke briefly about an effort to put a skating rink on the city-owned Library Lane site, adjacent to the downtown library on South Fifth Avenue. He hoped the topic could be put on the board’s agenda at some point.

The one resolution that was on the board’s agenda was unanimously approved: A one-year contract extension with Pace Mechanical Services for $83,865. The contract, which will run through June 30, 2014, covers HVAC equipment and maintenance.

The board also talked briefly about its budget preparations for fiscal 2013-14, which begins July 1. The budget and finance committee will bring a draft budget to the board’s April 15 meeting, with a vote on the budget scheduled for May 20. For the current fiscal year, the AADL has a budget of about $12 million, with a millage rate set at 1.55 mills.

Public Commentary

Three people spoke during public commentary at the start of the March 18 board meeting.

Stewart Gordon told the board that he works for the University of Michigan Center for South Asian Studies, but as an avocation, he’s interested in the idea of putting a skating rink on the Library Lane site. It’s an idea that’s been kicking around, he said, and there’s been a great deal of excitement and interest in it. He gave board members a handout that showed details of the plan, and said he hoped the project could be put on the board’s agenda at some point for discussion. [The following day – on March 19, 2013 – Gordon and Alan Haber made a more formal presentation on the same topic to the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. (.pdf of skating rink handout)]

Don Salberg started by saying he’s a retired physician who has lived in northeast Ann Arbor for 38 years. He said he’s a great proponent of the current library. He posed three questions. First, he said, at the Oct. 9, 2012 candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, board member Margaret Leary stated there had been a detailed review of the downtown library four years ago, and another review in the spring of 2012. He wondered if there were documents available related to those reviews that aren’t currently on the library’s website. If so, he’d like to examine those documents.

Secondly, Salberg said he suspected that the library building would have periodic safety inspections, with certificates of inspection or perhaps a report. He asked to see the most recent report on such an inspection. Finally, he understood that the board had thought it was too expensive to pay for architectural designs of a new library, given that they weren’t sure if the library bond would pass. But there must be a reason why the board decided that AADL needed a 160,000-square-foot new building, rather than duplicating the current, 110,000-square-foot building or constructing an even larger building – perhaps 200,000 square feet.

He said he knew that there were features the board wanted in a new library, like a 400-seat auditorium. He had checked other 400-seat auditoriums in Ann Arbor and said he found that those spaces ranged from 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. If you subtract 10,000 square feet from the additional 50,000 square feet that would be in the larger proposed library, “that still leaves 40,000 square feet unaccounted for.” He assumed they would want a kitchen and perhaps a dining facility: What would be the capacity of that? He assumed the rest of the extra space would be offices and meeting rooms, and he wanted to know their vision in terms of size and capacity, and why they figured that a library needs these spaces.

Libby Hunter told commissioners that she has lived on the west side of Ann Arbor for about 10 years, and is a member of the Protect Our Libraries political action committee. Members of that committee have concluded that the AADL board’s committee meetings should be open to the public, she said. PAC members have made calls to other communities, she said, and found out that library board subcommittee meetings are open to the public in Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, East Lansing and Grand Rapids. The only other place they checked was Kalamazoo, which she said has a lot of subcommittees and the board there is looking into the legalities of having some of those meetings public. “We’re wondering how all of you feel about that,” Hunter said.

Kathy Griswold, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kathy Griswold of the Protect Our Libraries political action committee attended the March 18 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board.

Hunter also said the community and library would benefit from public viewing of all of the library meetings on Community Television Network (CTN), “especially since the space is set up for it.” She wondered how the board felt about that.

By way of background, at its May 16, 2011 meeting, AADL board member Nancy Kaplan brought forward a resolution to videotape board meetings. It was defeated on a 2-4 vote, with support only from Kaplan and Barbara Murphy – trustee Ed Surovell was absent. No trustees spoke publicly during the meeting about their reasons for voting against it. The board had heard feedback from staff on the issue at its April 25, 2011 meeting, indicating that the logistics would be difficult for AADL staff to manage. CTN records and televises several other meetings that are held in the same boardroom as the library board meetings – on the fourth floor of the downtown AADL building. Those other public bodies include the Ann Arbor Public Schools board and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board.

Hunter also asked the board to consider holding its monthly meeting on a different week of the month, when it wouldn’t conflict with Ann Arbor city council meetings. [The city council meets on the first and third Mondays of each month. The AADL board usually meets on the third Monday of the month.]

Finally, Hunter questioned the board’s practice of holding closed sessions each month. She wondered how they reconciled that with the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

By way of background, at most of its meetings, the board votes to call a closed session for the start of the next month’s meeting, citing the specific reason for the closed session. For example, on March 18, 2013 the board voted to call a closed session for its April 15 meeting, starting at 6 p.m., for the purpose of discussing the director’s evaluation. When closed sessions are held, the meetings reconvene into open session at 7 p.m.

However, even though closed sessions are scheduled each month, the board doesn’t always hold those sessions. When the closed sessions aren’t needed, board members still generally meet informally for dinner in a room adjacent to the boardroom, and convene the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

Since January 2012, the reasons cited for closed sessions – as stated in the board minutes – are:

  • January 2012: No closed session
  • February 2012: Opinion of legal counsel
  • March 2012: Opinion of legal counsel
  • April 2012: Opinion of legal counsel, discussion of director’s evaluation
  • May 2012: Opinion of legal counsel, discussion of director’s evaluation
  • June 2012: No closed session
  • July 2012: No closed session
  • August 2012: No closed session
  • September 2012: Opinion of legal counsel, discussion of real estate
  • October 2012: No closed session
  • November 2012: Discussion of real estate
  • December 2012: Meeting cancelled
  • January 2013: No closed session
  • February 2013: Opinion of legal counsel, discussion of real estate
  • March 2013: No closed session

In a follow-up phone interview with The Chronicle, AADL director Josie Parker noted that because the library does not have in-house counsel, there are often matters that require the opinion of AADL’s outside legal counsel. In addition to having written communication from counsel at the closed session, she said that most of the time an attorney is present at the board’s closed sessions when the session is for the purpose of discussing the opinion of legal counsel. AADL’s primary legal counsel is the law firm Dykema, with addition consultation from attorneys at Hooper Hathaway.

The closed sessions are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., with the regular meeting set to reconvene at 7 p.m. When the closed sessions are adjourned, Parker said, the doors to the room are opened and anyone can come in. Board members sometimes stay and have informal conversations – as dinner is provided – or sometimes they’ll go and check out library materials before reconvening in open session at 7 p.m., she said.

At their March 18 meeting, board members gave no direct response to Hunter’s commentary. But at various points throughout their discussion on other items, some trustees made a point of highlighting ways in which they believe the board and library staff are already acting in an open and transparent way.

Financial Report

The AADL’s monthly financial report is typically presented by Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations. He did not attend the March 18 meeting, so highlights of the written financial report were given by AADL director Josie Parker. [.pdf of financial report]

As of Feb. 28, 2013 the library had received 97.4% of its budgeted tax revenues for the year, or $10.919 million. The library’s unrestricted cash balance was $11.58 million as of Feb. 28, with a fund balance of $8.268 million. Four line items are currently over budget: utilities, communications, software, and a line item for “other operating expenses.” All are expected to come back in line with budgeted amounts by the end of the fiscal year, on June 30. The month of February also included a $40,000 donation from the 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 donated to the library.

Typically, the board has no comments or questions on these monthly financial reports. There were no questions this month, but two board members made comments. Rebecca Head said she appreciated the staff’s openness and transparency regarding the budget. She noted that the board has the opportunity to ask questions, and she applauded Parker and the staff for their approach. Head reported that she serves on another board that’s not so transparent.

Margaret Leary highlighted the vendor check register that’s provided each month in the board packet. It’s required for every public entity, but not every organization provides it, she said. It’s a way that anyone – members of the public as well as the board – can see every penny that the library is spending, and who is getting paid, she said.

Parker said she appreciated the “rollforward” report that’s provided each month for both monthly and year-to-date results. The library is not allowed to invest in risky ways, she noted. Parker also highlighted a $15,000 donation made 11 years ago by Scott and Marcy Westerman. Today, the fund stands at about $43,000 – from additional donations as well as investment returns. The library intends to use part of it this year for the first time in a substantial way, she said, to help fund AADL’s summer game.

Prue Rosenthal wanted to make sure that Scott Westerman was informed about that, saying she knew he’d like to be involved. Parker indicated that she had talked to him about the use of that fund.

Committee Reports

The board has six committees: communications, budget and finance, facilities, policy, director’s evaluation and executive. Two of those – communications and facilities – were created as special committees at the board’s Jan. 21, 2013 meeting. Here are highlights from the committee reports made during the March 18 meeting.

Committee Reports: Budget & Finance

Nancy Kaplan reported that the budget and finance committee met on March 7 and is working with staff on the budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2013. Their goal is to ensure that operating revenues cover expenses, she said. The committee will meet again on April 3, and bring a draft budget for review at the board’s April 15 meeting. The board is expected to vote on the budget at its meeting on May 20.

AADL director Josie Parker noted that the process for developing the budget has not changed. It comes up through the department managers and is reviewed by the associate directors. The AADL does not have “hard” revenue estimates from Washtenaw County, she said, but they look at the county’s projections to estimate property tax revenues. [The county delivers its equalization report in April. That report includes a calculation of taxable value for all jurisdictions in the county, which determines tax revenues for those entities that rely on taxpayer funding, including cities and townships, public schools, libraries and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.]

For the current fiscal year, the AADL has a budget of about $12 million, with a millage rate set at 1.55 mills.

Committee Reports: Communications

Kaplan also reported out from the communications committee, which met on March 6. She noted that the committee’s task is to develop a communications audit and plan, and she read a section from the AADL’s strategic plan, which states this goal: “Develop high-level internal and external communications that get the message out, to all, about what we do and how we do it.”

Tim Grimes, Nancy Kaplan, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tim Grimes, AADL’s community relations and marketing manager, talks with AADL board member Nancy Kaplan, who chairs the board’s communications committee.

The committee – Kaplan, Ed Surovell and Margaret Leary – wants a plan that will guide the library for a long time, she said. That’s why they agreed to look at what the library currently does, to see if it reflects the needs and values of the community. A communications audit and plan will allow the library staff and board to self-reflect, she said, and with the help of communications experts, to bring new ideas to effectively inform and engage the library community.

Kaplan reported that the library is hiring Allerton-Hill Consulting to do the communications audit and plan, to be completed this year.

Rebecca Head noted that because Ann Arbor is “challenged” in terms of its communication outlets – because the city doesn’t have a wide-circulation daily print newspaper – it’s important for the library to push to be even more transparent. She said the library’s website is very transparent and provides a lot of information, but it requires that people go to it. Head indicated that now it’s time for the library to really push out that information.

Prue Rosenthal asked Kaplan to clarify that the decision to hire Allerton-Hill was an administrative decision made by the committee. Rosenthal noted that during the campaign to pass a bond for a new downtown library – which voters rejected on Nov. 6, 2012 – library advocates learned that “people in the community didn’t know what we do and how well we do it.” She supported the committee’s decision.

Kaplan replied that it wasn’t a decision that required a board vote. It was made in consultation with AADL director Josie Parker, she said.

Head noted that the library already has a huge membership and usage, but there are still a lot of people who aren’t aware of the library’s services. That’s why it’s important to push out the information, she said, so that everyone can take advantage of what the library offers. Rosenthal added that many people use the library for specific reasons, but don’t realize that there are many other services and events.

Responding to a query from The Chronicle after the meeting, Kaplan said the amount budgeted for this project is $28,000. That’s the maximum amount that can be allocated without board approval.

From the AADL’s purchasing policy:

Determine uniform guidelines for solicitation of bids and quotations for goods and/or services as follows:

a. If the cost of required materials, equipment, goods, supplies, or services to be obtained does not exceed twenty-seven thousand dollars ($27,000) (to be increased each year by the C.P.I. using 2006 as the base year), the Business Services Office Purchasing Agent may make the acquisition on the open market in a manner consistent with sound purchasing procedure. In such cases, informal quotes should be used to determine competitiveness, quality, and availability. Bids within the price limitations need not be recommended to the District Library Board but must be approved by the Associate Director for Finance and Administrative Services. Purchase of materials, equipment, goods, supplies or services shall not be made without the execution of the proper requisition form, with the exception of petty cash funds.

Committee Reports: Facilities

Margaret Leary, chair of the facilities committee, told the board that committee members met on Feb. 20 with AADL director Josie Parker and Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations. In advance of that meeting, the committee had asked Parker and Nieman for reports on the condition of all the AADL buildings, not just the downtown library. The committee wanted to find out what might lie ahead in terms of maintenance for the downtown building as well as for AADL’s four branches. She said the committee was happy to learn that while there’s no guarantee, the buildings have been regularly maintained and there’s nothing likely to happen that would require major maintenance. There’s always uncertainty, she noted – an elevator might fail, or something might happen to a roof – but the committee was confident that the library’s fund balance could cover anything that might happen. As of Feb. 28, the AADL’s fund balance was $8.268 million.

Committee Reports: Director’s Evaluation, Executive

Prue Rosenthal reported that the director’s evaluation committee is wrapping up its work, and will report to the board during a closed session at its April 15 meeting. The board will meet in closed session without AADL director Josie Parker, she said, but then will invite Parker to discuss the evaluation later in the same closed session.

Parker noted that in order for the review to take place during a closed session, the person being reviewed must request it. She said she had made that request.

The executive committee did not meet during the month, Rosenthal reported.

Committee Reports: Policy

Barbara Murphy reported that the policy committee hasn’t met, but plans a meeting in April after the next board meeting. They plan to do a methodical review of library policies, she said, since that hasn’t been done for about 10 years. She indicated that no urgent action is required.

HVAC Contract Extension

On the March 18 agenda was a resolution to approve a one-year contract extension with Pace Mechanical Services for $83,865. The contract, which would run through June 30, 2014, covers HVAC equipment and maintenance.

At its Jan. 26, 2009 meeting, the board had approved a three-year contract with Pace for $235,000.

Margaret Leary asked for more information about the contract extension, noting that it’s for a fairly large amount of money. Nancy Kaplan said that during the budget and finance committee meeting, associate director Ken Nieman had reported that Pace was giving AADL a 5% discount on the contract. Nieman has indicated that he was satisfied with the work that Pace has done, Kaplan said.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved a one-year contract extension with Pace Mechanical Services.

Director’s Report

In her monthly director’s report, Josie Parker highlighted several items. She thanked the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL) for their donation of $250 from the Gene Wilson Fund, which supports the purchase of materials in AADL’s conservation department.

A March 6, 2013 article in USA Today – “Libraries offer weird things to draw new borrowers” – included an interview with Celeste Choate, AADL’s associate director of services, collections and access. Parker thanked Choate for doing the interview, saying that it can be unnerving to talk to a national reporter. Parker had been interviewed for another article on the same topic that ran in the Wall Street Journal in December of 2012. In that report, the AADL was mentioned “but not by name,” Parker said.

Parker told the board that in those articles, the reporters are “reaching to make a point that is erroneous.” Their point is that libraries are trying to make themselves relevant by circulating unusual things, she said. But libraries began so that unusual, expensive items [books] could be circulated to people who couldn’t afford to own them, she observed.

From the USA Today article:

Choate, of the Ann Arbor library, said seed libraries and skeletons aren’t necessarily a sign that libraries are trying to stay relevant — it’s in the very nature of libraries to change. Many of the items we now take for granted — paperback books, pulp fiction and children’s books, for instance — were novelties, or worse, when libraries first introduced them. “Back in the day,” she said, “having fiction was scandalous.”

Over the years, libraries have adapted to community tastes and needs. “It’s an ongoing process, and it should be an ongoing process, because public libraries are funded by public tax dollars,” Choate said.

Parker said it’s wonderful that books are ubiquitous and much less expensive today, but it isn’t new for libraries to provide these kinds of services. She also noted that after the article was published, Choate began receiving inquiries from other libraries nationwide, asking about AADL’s different non-book collections. [For additional background on these collections, see Chronicle coverage of a presentation at the Jan. 16, 2012 AADL board meeting: "Mammoth Molars, Other Realia at the AADL."]

Parker also highlighted AADL’s participation in the national project called “America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway.” It’s a partnership of the Tribeca Film Institute in collaboration with the American Library Association, Tribeca Flashpoint, and the Society for American Music, as well as several local partners – FAADL, University Musical Society, the Kerrytown Concert House and others. The free eight-week series includes documentary films, discussions and performances, and she encouraged board members to attend, noting that it’s being offered because of the work of Tim Grimes and other library staff, as well as support from the community.

Parker reported that she’s received an invitation from the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes to attend an all-day workshop that brings together institutions and government to help ensure that all people are respected and safe in this state. “This is what the public library does, and stands for,” she said. “It’s the one place where everyone can be, and we’ve done that historically for a very long time.” It was impressive that library directors are included in this discussion, she said, along with city managers, police chiefs and school superintendents.

Finally, Parker noted that home schooled students who want to participate in the National Geographic Bee must have a “proctoring institution.” Public libraries can serve that role, she said, and AADL is doing that for Andrew G. Himebaugh. He’ll be participating at the state level competition for grades 4-8 held on April 5 at Western Michigan University. “We’re rooting for him,” she said.

Director’s Report: Board Response

Following up on Parker’s report, Margaret Leary – librarian emerita of the University of Michigan Law School – said it was important to remember how public libraries originated.

Ed Surovell, Margaret Leary, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

AADL board members Ed Surovell and Margaret Leary.

The first libraries in America were lending libraries that you had to pay to join. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Andrew Carnegie used some of his fortune to facilitate the building of public libraries around the country. That’s why there are so many libraries that to this day are called Carnegie libraries, she said.

Carnegie required that each town pay a portion of the construction costs, and that the town commit to supporting the library. Leary said that’s part of the origin story behind what’s now called the Ann Arbor District Library. She highlighted the book “Free to All” by Abigail A. Van Slyck, which describes Carnegie’s efforts. Public libraries are an important component of American democracy because libraries are a place for people to get an education beyond what they get at the public schools.

Prue Rosenthal noted that the Ladies Library, which was founded in 1866, is also an important part of AADL’s history and started as a private library.

Leary clarified with Parker that some of this history is on the AADL website. Parker said she’s talked with Grace Shackman about bringing the library’s history up to date. She recalled that the city of Ann Arbor had declined Carnegie’s grant, but the Ladies Library Association later struck a partnership with the Ann Arbor Public Schools and eventually received the grant.

In a 1991 Ann Arbor Observer article, Shackman describes the Carnegie library’s genesis:

In 1902, Anna Botsford Bach, then president of the Ladies Library Association, suggested applying for a Carnegie grant to build a city library. The city’s application was supported by the school board, the city council, and the Ladies Library Association. But after Carnegie granted $20,000 for the project in 1903, the applicants could not agree among themselves on a site. (The school board wanted the new library to be near the high school so the students could continue using it. The Ladies Library Association thought an entirely separate location would better serve the general public.) The deadlock was resolved only after the application was resubmitted in 1904 without the participation of the Ladies Library Association. This time, the city and school board were awarded $30,000.

AADL Podcasts

The board received a presentation on AADL podcasts from Tim Grimes, the library’s community relations and marketing manager, and Eli Neiburger, associate director of IT and production. AADL director Josie Parker introduced the presentation by saying that podcasting has become a significant service of the library, in terms of capturing history and events.

Grimes described podcasts as basically audio and video programs that are delivered over the Internet. They tend to be informal conversations and interviews, and are an excellent venue for recording history – especially local history, he said. Local teens were the first to push for this service, Grimes said. AADL’s first podcast in 2007 was of a gaming tournament, hosted by a high school gamer and an AADL youth librarian. It was “answered” by a homemade podcast from long-time AADL gamers known as the Savage Brothers. The AADL staff then experimented with podcasts called “The Rundown,” which provided news about events for teens.

Grimes described a wide range of other podcasts in the following years, including interviews with community groups like FestiFools, the Ann Arbor Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibits project. Local artists Mr. B, Madcat Ruth, JT Abernathy & Stan Baker were interviewed, as were national speakers who came to town: Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, actor David Alan Grier, and journalist Helen Thomas, among others.

Some of the more popular podcasts are oral histories about the Ann Arbor farmers market. With 1,292 downloads, it was among the top downloaded podcasts in 2012, Grimes reported. Others in the top 6 are: musician Mr. B (1,653 downloads); The Story Collider, described as “a project that aims to get people telling stories about science in their everyday lives” (1,397 downloads); Ben Franklin (1,270); Jim Toy & Jackie Simpson (1,226 downloads); and Donald Harrison, former executive director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival (1,167 downloads).

Some of the local history podcasts include interviews with former Washtenaw County sheriff Doug Harvey; George Pomey, a member of 1964-65 UM basketball team; “heritage business” podcasts with Charles Schlanderer Sr. and Charles Schlanderer Jr., and many others. These are included as part of AADL’s Old News collection.

Grimes also reported that AADL is facilitating podcasts that are done by library patrons. Those include “Comics Are Great,” “TinkerHub” by All Hands Active, and the soon-to-be-released “Talking ‘bout my Generation.” Several others are in development, Grimes said.

AADL Podcasts: Board Discussion

Nancy Kaplan asked whether the AADL staff provides instructions in how to do podcasts, and how long it takes. AADL offers periodic workshops on the topic, Tim Grimes said. Eli Neiburger that the actual podcast might take only a couple of hours to produce, but it can take a much longer time to develop a show. “It moves at the speed [the podcasters] want it to move,” he said.

In 2012, the AADL released about 35 podcasts. Most of those roughly 20 programs were in the “Comics Are Great!” series. Sometimes there are clusters of podcasts on a particular subject, like Argus Cameras or the Free John Sinclair project, Grimes said.

Margaret Leary asked if there were any constraints or limitations on how many the library can do, or what kind they can do.  There’s finite capacity, Neiburger said, but right now the volume isn’t high – so the number of podcasts depends on opportunities that emerge. AADL plays the role of a producer, he said, by “merging the talent with what’s actually possible.”

Grimes added that it helps to have a “dedicated closet” – a reference to the small space off of the fourth-floor boardroom that’s been converted into a podcast studio. It means there’s no set-up time, because the equipment is already in place.

Leary asked if there’s anywhere else in town where podcasts can be produced for free. Neiburger mentioned the studios at Community Television Network, and Grimes noted that some people do podcasts from their homes.

Prue Rosenthal wondered if AADL staff approve the content for the podcasts. Not generally, Neiburger replied. But because the podcasts are usually done in collaboration, “there’s certainly discussion about it.” AADL director Josie Parker added that in general, the library has found that it’s not necessary to have a lot of rules about this kind of thing, because people tend to respect the library’s public space. She likened it to the comments left on AADL’s website –  saying there are very few that have to be removed. “It’s a wonderful commentary about how people behave in a public space – in this public space.”

Leary noted that the podcasts – like AADL’s Old News site – are an example of the library producing content, not just buying it.

AADL & The Zukunfstwerkstatt

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production, gave a report on his recent trip to Germany as a guest of the U.S. State Department and Zukunftswerkstatt (“Future Workshop”), visiting libraries in several cities. The trip was outgrowth of a partnership that began in 2005 when AADL director Josie Parker had been invited by the State Department to travel to Europe and talk about AADL’s lending model.

The Zukunftswerkstatt is a nonprofit focused on working with libraries to do training and develop partnerships that would otherwise be difficult within the German library system. The head of the Zukunftswerkstatt, Christoph Deeg, had been interesting in using AADL’s efforts as a pattern to get German libraries more involved with younger communities, using gaming and other activities. German libraries have a long history, which created a very different kind of culture compared to libraries in the U.S. For example, all libraries in Germany charge an annual fee for library cards.

The AADL has developed a gaming system called GT System, which the library uses to run its own tournaments. AADL staff also made a version of the system that any library can use. About 500 libraries worldwide use the GT system, Neiburger said. The Zukunftswerkstatt wanted to develop a German version, so that users of German libraries could start having gaming events with each other. “It really gets kids excited about their town and their community, and to see their libraries as the place where they gain access to the rest of the world,” he said. Gaming events hosted by the library are a way for kids to see that they aren’t just playing against “some random person,” Neiburger added. “This is me representing my town.”

The Zukunftswerkstatt got funding from U.S. State Department to sponser a German-American gaming league, and to pay for Neiburger’s recent trip to Germany to talk about gaming at some of the libraries across Germany. He visited Berlin, where he also was invited to speak with the U.S. embassy’s social media team. They were interested in hearing about AADL’s experiences, and transferring that to better engage with the population in Germany. He also gave a talk at a video game museum in Berlin. Other cities on his trip included Wolfsburg – the home of Volkswagen – as well as Munich, Cologne, Karlsruhe and Tübingen, Ann Arbor’s sister city.

Since the partnership with AADL, 12 German libraries in 12 of the 16 German states have started running events through the GT System. A league tournament is being held, with 15 finalists traveling to Wolfsburg in mid-April for the German gaming finals. Three winners from that event will becoming to Ann Arbor for the May 19 German-American Gaming League Championships, held at the AADL.

Neiburger said the AADL is hoping to engage the local German-American community, as well as international students and faculty living here. The partnership will continue to the International Gaming Day in November, he said.

Rebecca Head told Neiburger how impressed she was about this effort. Technology can be isolating, but it can also result in a smaller world and community, she said, and the gaming tournament is an example of that.

Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Prue Rosenthal, Ed Surovell. Also AADL director Josie Parker.

Absent: Jan Barney Newman.

Next meeting: Monday, April 15, 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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  1. By Sam S.
    April 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm | permalink

    First I was wondering how many books $28,000 would buy. Then I was wondering how much regular maintenance – the kind that has been ignored so that we conveniently ‘need’ a new library – $28,000 would buy.

    Then I began to wonder why the library would take the maximum allowed without a board vote, when we know any vote would sail through easily.

    I’m beginning to think it’s because “Allerton Hill” told them to.

    It looks like Allerton Hill used to be Avakian Consulting. It looks like Avakian had a history of preying on small town school districts, engaging in questionable-at-best behavior that resulted in multiple lawsuits for fraud and similar offenses.

    Further research into Avakian’s background led to Olentangy School District, where the former communications director Carole Dorn-Bell fraudulently spent district funds to hire Avakian consultant Joel Gagne to ‘aid with the levy’… The rabbit hole runs deep and the payment scheme was difficult to discern at first. In 2008, Dorn-Bell bypassed the normal purchasing procedures in the school district and had the Franklin County Educational Services Department invoice the Olentangy School District on behalf of Avakian Consulting for ‘consulting services.’ As it is against Ohio election law to spend public funds for electioneering purposes, the Purchase Order was labeled “Superintendent Outreach” when in fact the funds were funneled indirectly to Avakian via Franklin County.

    Later after these events Carole Dorn-Bell left the Olentangy School District and was hired by Avakian Consulting, the very firm she paid $15,000 on behalf of the district to aid with the levy.

    Gagne was paid $25,000 by the City of Xenia in March to help the city with the passage of a tax levy, which failed to pass on May 4. A lawsuit was filed accusing the city officials of fraud, misappropriation of funds and violation of Ohio election laws. [link]

    Note: Gagne is referred to as Bill in the article, but documents linked show the name Joel.

    There are plenty of other google results for avakian consulting to sift through if any concerned reporters care to do the research the AADL either didn’t do or didn’t think its public capable of.

  2. April 1, 2013 at 2:45 pm | permalink

    Sam: Coincidentally, $28,000 is very close to the amount the maintenance budget has been underspent so far this year (see the financial report linked from the story).

  3. By Lou Glorie
    April 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm | permalink

    Podcasts are a great idea. Why not podcast the monthly board meetings? The Board has problems with communication that could be addressed by opening its workings to the light of day. Library board Committee meetings are open to the public in other cities. The Board keeps committee appointments down below a quorum and uses this as an excuse to not open up the meetings. With or without a quorum, those meetings should be open to the public.

    The policy of scheduling closed sessions before the public meetings offers a great opportunity for this very insular board to get things out of the way before going public. Closed sessions should only be scheduled when there is a legal reason for it.

    The Board refuses to hold its meetings on days that do not conflict with other governing bodies’ meetings. Why hold their meetings on the same day as Ann Arbor City Council meetings? The third Monday also conflicts with some township board meetings. I checked all the district township and city council meetings and it turns out the second Mondays and first Wednesdays are clear. Why not make the change?

    The Board also refuses to broadcast its meetings. So instead of making its meetings more inviting to the public, the Board hires a firm to help it solve its communication problems. The Board should read its own survey commissioned last March. This survey showed that most respondents think very highly of the library system–because of the collections and the knowledgeable staff. The Board doesn’t have to pinball-petes itself to make users happy. It just needs to stop trying to sell itself as a downtown “destination”.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 2, 2013 at 7:58 am | permalink

    What a hoot–a board that dodges live broadcasts of its meetings hiring someone because they don’t think they are communicating well enough to improve their public face. Lol.

  5. By Libby Hunter
    April 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm | permalink

    After speaking at public commentary I remarked that answers to my questions would be appreciated and I left my email address with the board secretary. The next day I rec’d emailed answers, and would like to thank the board for taking the time. I’ll paste the email here for other interested residents. Libby Hunter

    Ms. Hunter,

    Thank you for taking the time to attend the March 18th AADL Board meeting, and for exercising your right to speak to elected officials. Below we have answered the questions that you submitted in writing.

    1. How do you feel about having open sub-committee meetings with pubic (sic) attendance?

    The AADL Board committee meetings are attended by three or fewer AADL Board members, and are held in compliance with the Open Meetings Act. The Board is satisfied with this process.

    2. How would you feel about CTN televising library board meetings?

    On May 16, 2011, the AADL Board voted in open session against televising AADL Board meetings.

    3. How would you feel about holding Board meetings on a Monday when A2 city council is not holding a regular meeting?

    The AADL Board acknowledges that its Board meeting dates are sometimes in conflict with those of the City Council of the City of Ann Arbor. The dates are also sometimes in conflict with several of the townships served by the AADL. The meeting dates are established at the beginning of each calendar year. The third Monday of the month has been the established date of AADL Board meetings for over a decade, and the Board has not found that this schedule impedes its ability to conduct the business of the AADL.

    4. Are you holding closed meetings before the regular monthly board meetings? How do you reconcile this with the Open Meetings Act?

    The AADL Board decides when it is necessary to meet in a closed session, and those meetings are announced and voted on in public at monthly board meetings. Closed Sessions are held in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.

    5. How could all members be heard, consistently, to even visitors in the back rows?

    AADL Board members will be encourage to speak into their microphones at meetings. We do apologize for any inconvenience that you experienced at the meeting.


    Karen Wilson

    Karen L. Wilson
    Administrative Assistant
    Ann Arbor District Library
    343 S. Fifth Avenue
    Ann Arbor, MI 48104
    Phone: (734) 327-8311
    Fax: (734) 327-8309

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm | permalink

    “2. How would you feel about CTN televising library board meetings?

    On May 16, 2011, the AADL Board voted in open session against televising AADL Board meetings.”

    We know. Why are board members opposed to televising meetings? If the Board doesn’t understand this is a roadblock to their communicating effective with the public, then all the ‘communications’ consultants on the planet aren’t going to help. Something to remember the next time AADL comes to the public for a millage increase.

  7. April 2, 2013 at 2:22 pm | permalink

    It has been clear for some time that AADL does not embrace true public transparency and accessibility – what one might call the spirit of the OMA, though I’m sure they adhere to the letter of the law. It is shameful that they refuse to televise their meetings, which just about every other public entity in our region does do. They are meeting in a facility that is fully equipped to do this (in fact, other meetings held there are televised).

    Until the Chronicle began reporting on their meetings, they met in nearly perfect obscurity, between being on the same night as Council and not being covered by news media. I think they liked it that way.

    Times change. Merely having public minutes (which can be abbreviated) does not convey the full flavor and detail of deliberations. We have come to be a more fully connected public and to expect more of a face-to-face relationship with officials. Maybe the new consultant can advise them on that.

    I’d like to recognize (in contrast) the move by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board to the AADL conference room specifically so that they can be televised. This took place over a year ago. The AATA also conducts their Planning and Development Committee meetings as public meetings, though they are not required to, since that is a sub-quorum committee. It shows a laudable commitment to transparency on the part of the AATA.

  8. April 2, 2013 at 2:42 pm | permalink

    Re (7) Vivienne accurately noted that “Until the Chronicle began reporting on their meetings, they met in nearly perfect obscurity”.

    Another reason why readers of the Chronicle should provide regular and generous financial support for this news site. No resident can attend every meeting of every public body. The Chronicle provides coverage of those important meetings we all want chronicled for later reference.

    Nonetheless, I agree that the library board needs to televise its meetings. You cannot build public trust without making your meetings easily accessible.

  9. By Roger Kuhlman
    April 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm | permalink

    It is absolutely absurd that the Library needs a Communication consultant. Does this move signal that the Library Board is about to make another effort to increase taxes to build a new downtown library?

  10. By Sam S.
    April 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm | permalink

    Re (9), very likely. From various incarnations of Avakian.biz/now Allerton-Hill.com:

    “The firm specializes in developing better communication with taxpayers months before an issue goes to the voters.”
    “Avakian Consulting has often swung anticipated negative outcomes to positive outcomes.”

    “They work closely with grassroots volunteers, giving them the themes and organization they need to be successful.”

    – So closely, in fact, that they were exposed “Astroturfing” for a Biomass (woodburning) power plant in Massachusetts in 2009.

    I am unsure what the legality is of the library spending money on image consultants for a probable bond issue, particularly if those consultants may then secretly fund citizen campaigns in support of the bond, but the script which is eerily similar to the Olentangy and Xenia stories makes one wonder if laws are being tiptoed up to or around. What a shame that the Board seems to have such disdain for the voters and patrons of the library that simple opacity may now be stretching to outright deceit.

  11. By Eric J
    April 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm | permalink

    That’s what it looks like to me, the start of the next campaign for a white elephant library-convention center. This shows classical liberal-squanderite behavior with respect to millages. Heads we win, the result is final, tails we bring it up again and again until we get what we want, never mind that last time it was defeated by a big margin in a high turnout election.

    A couple of items provide some consolation. Coming up are big state tax increases and competing millage requests from the city, county and AAPS. The cookie jar may well be empty by the time AADL makes its grab.

    Also of the course the inconvenient fact, for AADL, that its core purpose, the storage and distribution of information, is rapidly evaporating to cyberspace.

  12. By observatory
    April 3, 2013 at 6:43 am | permalink

    Great job Chron and commenters alike!

    Terrible job AADL board and executive!

  13. By Alan Goldsmith
    April 3, 2013 at 6:46 am | permalink


    Interesting article on Avakian.biz/now Allerton-Hill.com:

    “Now political consultants are on the taxpayers’ payroll?”

    “Percival said the council agreed to hire Avakian Consulting after WSU’s community survey found 52 percent of residents polled felt the city had an image problem. City officials have also used survey results to support the need to seek more revenue to continue to provide current police, fire and road services.”


  14. April 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    When I saw the stuff about the communication consultant, I thought that the Library was ramping up for a new campaign. The great research in the comments here confirms that.

    What is and is not a “campaign expense” depends on what the County Clerk will say, if asked. Timing is everything, I expect.

    My guess is that the Library is looking at November, 2014 for another bond question.

  15. By DrData
    April 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm | permalink

    The dollar amount strikes me as a contract for services rather than hiring an employee. Otherwise, the library won’t be getting much of a communications consultant for $28,000. That is a low-level, needs lots of guidance salary.

    Is this supposed to be a full-year/full-time position – and the person isn’t off working on other “ballot issues” in neighboring communities?

    Good detective work.

  16. April 3, 2013 at 5:59 pm | permalink

    I think everyone commenting here and probably everyone reading this (with the possible exception of Eric J.) loves our Ann Arbor District Library and appreciates its many services and advances, notably in archiving local historical documents and in customer service. I just picked up a book today.

    It makes me sad that our first reaction to this news is suspicion. But it makes me sadder to share that.

  17. By Eric J
    April 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm | permalink

    It isn’t a matter of love, its just that it costs a fair piece of money and its purpose is vanishing.

    Now that spring has come someone asked what literary work starts with “April is the cruellest month” (not about income tax). One person remembered then we Googled. After typing in April is the rest was autofinished in the suggested search list and there were several listings of the complete work, biography of the writer, criticism, whatever else you wanted concerning this work.

    No need to go to a library, no need for Bartlett’s quotations, no need for anthologies.

  18. By Steve Bean
    April 3, 2013 at 10:28 pm | permalink

    @17: Unless you wanted to read the work at the park, or on the bus, during a blackout, or….

  19. By JPelissier
    April 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm | permalink

    $28,000 for a Communications Consultant? REALLY!? Make your meetings public like many other libraries already do, Nancy Kaplan, and there is no need for the communication consultant. Being an ex-employee, I say save the $28,000 and hire adequate staff at all facilities so supervisors don’t instruct workers to leave desks empty when an employee take a dinner break! Yes, this happens. Also, it is obvious some board members think the residents of Ann Arbor are ignorant. It is time for these board members to be replaced by new members that will more adequately reflect the wants and needs of the citizens of Ann Arbor.

  20. By Lyn Davidge
    April 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm | permalink

    I’m concerned that various Board comments noted above reflect a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of communication. It’s two-way, folks!

    President Rosenthal thinks that the community doesn’t “know what we do or how we do it?” I talked to a lot of voters during my unsuccessful campaign for Board last Fall. I did not find anyone who didn’t know what the AADL does, or how well they do many things. I did find those who did not like some what the library does and did not feel it reflects the needs and interests of the library district.

    Trustee Head is noted twice as saying that the library needs to “push out information.” A strategic plan goal is quoted by Trustee Kaplan which emphasizes getting the message out about what the library does but does not mention more effective gathering of input from users. Trustee Leary speaks of the communications audit now contracted to Allerton Hill as a means to “effectively inform and engage” the public — an ambiguous phrase at best.

    Chronicle readers, the AADL Board needs to hear from you! At this point, they aren’t asking what you think, so you need to take that initiative. Call / write members individually or collectively. Come to the next meeting on Monday, April 15 at 7 PM and put your ideas and opinions on record! Most of us believe we have a great library and we deserve to have a say in developing better services and a 21st century vision for this beloved institution. We need to remind the Board and Administration of that.

  21. April 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm | permalink

    I would like to clarify one point. It is my understanding that when Library Board Member Nancy Kaplan brought up the topic of the consultant’s contract, she was not endorsing that contract. She was bringing up a subject that would not have otherwise been discussed. Because the contract was for an amount, $28,000, that did not require Board approval, it did not require Board discussion. Ms. Kaplan thought the subject deserved public attention.

    As noted in the article, Ms. Kaplan previously offered a resolution to televise Board meetings. Her efforts appear to be a consistent effort to help the public gain access to what the Library does. I would encourage others to support her in this endeavor.

  22. By Libby Hunter
    April 13, 2013 at 10:40 pm | permalink

    The website for the Columbus consulting firm the AADL is hiring is worth a look…not well-written, and looks like a politically oriented group, ie, one that assists in getting bonds passed. Their newest product is a customized mobile app. [link]

  23. By DrData
    April 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm | permalink

    #22: That’s why I think the $28,000 is being used to hire services from this consulting organization rather than an AADL employee. The only thing that surprises me is that the fee wasn’t $50,000, but perhaps that expenditure requires more daylight.

    Too bad the AADL is going this route. I am a supporter of a public library and have been a heavy user – not so much without kids.