Library OKs Budget, Tax Rate Unchanged

Ann Arbor District Library's $12.3M budget for FY 2013-14 includes 1.55 mill tax; also, board president defends Open Meetings Act compliance

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (May 6, 2013): Reversing a slight tax increase that had been proposed in the draft budget, the AADL board approved a $12.3 million budget for fiscal 2013-14 with an unchanged tax rate of 1.55 mills. The library’s fiscal year begins July 1.

Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

One of two video cameras used to record the May 6, 2013 AADL board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Nancy Kaplan, chair of the board’s budget & finance committee, said the committee met after the April 15, 2013 board meeting and discussed concerns that had been raised about the proposal to levy a slightly higher millage rate of 1.575 mills. She noted that administration had proposed cuts to allow the rate to remain unchanged.

The main reduction in expenses came from the materials line item, with nearly $100,000 saved by switching from RFID to bar code technology for handling circulation. AADL director Josie Parker stressed that the library is able to secure those savings without impacting the purchase of materials for its collection.

In addition to the budget, the board also approved a one-year extension on the space-use agreement with the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, which 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.

The board was briefed on a proposal that they’ll be voting on next month to upgrade the fiber-optic infrastructure for the Pittsfield branch. Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production, described that location at 2359 Oak Valley Drive as a “bandwidth backwater,” with about 2% of the Internet connectivity speed compared to other AADL locations. The recommendation is to hire the nonprofit Merit Network to build and maintain a connection from the branch to Merit’s existing high-speed network. The contract includes a one-time cost of $112,150 and ongoing annual costs of $2,625.

The May 6 session also included two statements from board president Prue Rosenthal, which she read aloud during the meeting. One was a letter from the board to Parker, following her annual evaluation. The board praised Parker’s work over the past year, including the recognition and leadership of Parker and her staff at the state, national and international levels. At Parker’s request, her salary was unchanged for the fourth consecutive year.

Rosenthal’s second statement, read early in the meeting, was in response to issues raised at previous meetings during public commentary about the board’s compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. The board is scrupulous about adhering to the letter and spirit of the law, Rosenthal stated.

At the end of the meeting, resident David Diephuis responded to Rosenthal’s statement, urging the board to videotape its meetings and to allow the public to attend the board’s committee meetings. He noted that the board does meet the requirements of the OMA. “My question to you is what is allowed under the act,” he said. “I believe this community wants more than what’s required.”

The suggestion to videotape the monthly board meetings had been proposed two years ago by trustee Nancy Kaplan but had been supported by only one other board member, Barbara Murphy.

A videotaping of the meeting did occur for the first time on May 6, however. Skyline High junior David Kloiber set up two stationary cameras to record the proceedings. He had been hired by the Protect Our Libraries political action committee, which posted the video on YouTube.

FY 2013-14 Budget

The main items on the board’s agenda related to AADL’s fiscal 2013-14 budget. The board was asked to act on three resolutions: (1) set a millage rate of 1.55 mills – unchanged from the current rate; (2) approve the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013; and (3) designate the budget as a line-item budget with a policy for disbursements. [.pdf of budget summary from AADL board meeting packet]

The $12.328 million budget assumes a 2.1% increase in tax revenues, based on an increase in property values. The approved budget and millage rate are slightly lower than the draft proposal presented at the AADL board’s April 15, 2013 meeting. At that time, trustee Ed Surovell argued strongly against even the slightest increase in the millage rate, which had been proposed at 1.575 mills. The library is authorized to levy up to 1.92 mills, but in recent years the board has set the millage rate at lower levels.

The budget reflects a 3% increase in the merit raise pool for full-time employees and an increase in hourly base rates for part-time workers. The base rate for part-time workers – known as “casual” employees – hadn’t been raised since 2008, and the administration wanted to make sure that the library’s lower-paying jobs started at more than $9 per hour.

Expenses related to employee salaries, benefits and taxes are by far the biggest part of the budget, totaling $7.995 million – up 3.5% compared to the current fiscal year. Of the non-personnel expenses, the largest line item is for materials, at $1.75 million – down 5.4% ($98,931) compared to the current year’s expenditure of $1.848 million.

FY 2013-14 Budget: Public Hearing

Two people spoke during the public hearing on the budget. Lyn Davidge told the board that it was a little daunting to comment on any budget proposal, because she’s fully aware that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about the budget, and that there’s a lot that the board does know about it. Her concern was the proposed cut to the materials budget – about $99,000 less for the purchase of books, DVDs, and other materials. She hoped the board would address the rationale for this cut, and to let her know if she has misunderstood what this line item actually means.

Don Salberg asked about the proposed 3% increase in the merit pool. No doubt employees deserved it, he said, but he wanted to know if the criteria could be provided to the general public.

FY 2013-14 Budget: Board Discussion

Nancy Kaplan, chair of the board’s budget & finance committee, reported that the committee had met on April 26. At the board’s April 15, 2013 meeting, she noted, some concerns had been raised about increasing the millage. [The committee had originally recommended increasing the millage by 0.025 mills. Ed Surovell had argued strongly against any increase, saying that many taxpayers continue to struggle because of the economic downturn.]

The committee had followed up on those concerns with Ken Nieman – AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations – as well as AADL director Josie Parker. They discussed ways to find additional efficiencies while still providing the community with the services it expects, Kaplan said. So now the committee was able to recommend leaving the millage at the current rate.

Margaret Leary said she was glad about the committee’s recommendation, because it’s consistent with how the library has operated in the past, and consistent with what the staff can do – providing a good collection and great services, despite limited resources.

Leary noted that there had been interest expressed during public commentary about the changes that had been made. In reviewing the April draft budget with the current proposed budget, Leary identified three line items that had changed: (1) purchased services had been decreased by $10,000 to $133,000; (2) materials had been cut by about $99,000 to $1.75 million; and (3) library programming had diminished by $37,000 to $235,000.

Nancy Kaplan, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Seated from left: AADL board members Nancy Kaplan, Jan Barney Newman and  Prue Rosenthal.

AADL director Josie Parker elaborated on those items. The $1.75 million line item for materials that’s proposed in the FY 2013-14 budget reflects about $99,000 in savings from the original draft budget. That line item includes not only the items in the collection, but also includes the materials needed to package and circulate the collection, such as labels and bar codes. The savings is being taken from the latter category.

Specifically, the library is dropping the RFID technology it has used to help manage circulation. That technology is expensive and is no longer being supported by the company that developed it for libraries, Parker said, so the library will be using bar code labeling instead. By changing back to bar code circulation only, the library is able to secure those savings without impacting the purchase of materials for the collection.

Leary paraphrased, noting that the cut has come not from the content, but from the physical processing of the collection. Another example in the past was the elimination of “theft strips,” Leary said, which had been extremely expensive. Leary applauded the administration’s ability to make cuts without impacting the funds available for the collection itself.

Barbara Murphy, who also serves on the board’s budget & finance committee, pointed out that the changes Leary had highlighted were a comparison between the draft budget and the final proposed budget. Some of the changes are smaller if you compare the current fiscal 2012-13 budget with the proposed fiscal 2013-14 budget, she said.

For example, the April draft FY 2013-14 budget had called for an increase of the library programming line item to $272,000, compared to the current fiscal year’s $250,601 for that item. The revised draft budget cuts programming to $235,000.

Jan Barney Newman, another member of the budget & finance committee, said the budget doesn’t show a significant increase in the line item for repairs and maintenance, with the hope that it won’t be needed. In fact, she said, some expenses in that category are unforeseen. [The FY 2013-14 line item for repairs and maintenance is $302,000, a 5.5% increase from $286,338 in FY 2012-13.]

Parker added that any unanticipated costs for repairs and maintenance would be paid for out of the library’s fund balance. As of March 31, the AADL’s fund balance was $8.214 million.

Leary described the budget as conservative. Prue Rosenthal added that the library has a very conservative CFO. Kaplan pointed out that copies of the budget are available at all the branches and online as part of the board’s meeting packet.

Outcome: The budget, millage rate and designation of the budget as a line-item budget – with a policy for disbursements – were approved in three separate unanimous votes. Ed Surovell left after the vote on the millage rate, and did not vote on the budget or line-item resolutions. Rebecca Head was absent.

FY 2013-14 Budget: Additional Public Commentary

During the public commentary at the end of the meeting, Lyn Davidge thanked the board for their discussion and explanation of the line item for materials. She said it would have been nice to have similar explanations for all of the line items that had been changed since the draft budget was proposed. “It was a useful discussion, and I hope to hear more of those in the future,” she said.

Friends of the AADL Space-Use Agreement

A resolution to extend the Ann Arbor District Library’s space-use agreement with the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library for one year was on the  board’s May 6 agenda. Friends of AADL operates a used bookstore in the lower level of AADL’s downtown branch at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Proceeds of the store – about $90,000 annually – are given to the library. [.pdf of current FAADL space-use agreement]

Prue Rosenthal noted that she’d had a brief conversation with FAADL board president Pat McDonald, who had told Rosenthal that she didn’t have any concerns about the agreement. There was no other comment on this item.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the one-year extension for FAADL’s space-use agreement.

After the vote, Nancy Kaplan reported that she had attended a recent Friends luncheon. She described them as a “wonderful, dedicated group,” and encouraged others to join the organization.

Director’s Evaluation

During the meeting, board president Prue Rosenthal read a letter that had been given to AADL director Josie Parker, following Parker’s annual evaluation by the board. [.pdf of board's letter to Parker] The evaluation had been conducted by a board committee, and discussed with Parker and the full board in closed session, at Parker’s request.

The letter praised Parker’s work over the past year, including the recognition and leadership of Parker and her staff at the state, national and international levels. However, “Since your salary is equitable with those in comparable positions, and at your request, we have agreed that, for the fourth year in a row, your salary will remain the same.” [Parker's salary is $143,114.]

The letter only indirectly alluded to a major effort that took place over the past year – a proposal to rebuild the downtown library, which ended when voters rejected a $65 million bond ballot proposal in November of 2012:

The Board is pleased that the Library continues to operate with a balanced budget year after year while developing and providing new services and seeing increased use of the Library’s services. It is particularly proud of the fact that this can be accomplished while meeting the need of additional maintenance to the aging Downtown facility.

Each year presents new choices and new demands. Ann Arbor is a special community, founded and built on learning and information. The Ann Arbor District Library has increasingly been central to our community and its growth and prosperity. It is therefore incumbent upon us to pay special attention to the strategic goal of maximizing the efficiency and utilization of the meeting rooms in all facilities to provide what the community deserves.

When Rosenthal finished reading the letter, the board gave Parker a round of applause. Parker thanked the board, but did not make any additional remarks.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Director’s Report

Josie Parker highlighted three achievements of AADL staff members during her monthly director’s report.

Josie Parker, Prue Rosenthal, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: AADL director Josie Parker and Prue Rosenthal, president of the AADL board.

The library won “best of show” from the American Library Association for AADL’s online annual report. Parker credited Tim Grimes, AADL’s community relations and marketing manager, as well as other staff for this effort. It’s the first time that the library has won for its online annual report. [The video annual report for the library’s 2011-12 fiscal year runs six minutes and features clips from programs and speakers hosted by AADL, as well as describing new online services and content that’s available for circulation.]

Other ALA awards included “best of show” for the 2012 summer game print material for children, and honorable mention for Jump!, a calendar of events for kids. Parker noted that AADL competes with hundreds of other submissions in these categories, and she congratulated everyone who was involved in working on these projects.

Parker also reported that in the fall of 2012, AADL was asked to do a webinar on its “21st century take on reference services.” Reference resources have changed, but instead of forsaking reference, Parker said, AADL decided to recharge it and change it. Celeste Choate – AADL associate director of services, collections and access – was asked along with others from across the country to participate in a webinar. Choate was subsequently asked to do a similar presentation at a Public Library Association conference, and more recently gave it at a meeting of the Massachusetts Library Association.

Finally, Parker noted that Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production, would be featured on the May 7 edition of On Point, a news analysis show distributed by National Public Radio. Neiburger was on a panel with Tony Marx, the CEO of the New York Public Library, and others talking about the role of libraries in the digital age. Parker said she was very proud that Neiburger is part of that discussion.

Ed Surovell remarked that “any time we share a library podium with NYPL, we have something here to be proud of.”

The board gave the staff a round of applause.

Pittsfield Fiber-Optic Project

The board is considering a proposal to upgrade the fiber-optic infrastructure for the AADL’s Pittsfield branch. A staff recommendation calls for Merit Network to build and maintain a connection from the branch to Merit’s existing high-speed network. [.pdf of fiber-optic proposal]

Merit, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, currently provides AADL’s main connection to the Internet. The Pittsfield branch – located at 2359 Oak Valley Drive – is outside of the city of Ann Arbor’s I-Net (Institutional Fiber Network) and currently uses much slower T1 and cable TV connections.

Ava Lowen, Ann Arbor Open, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

This robot will not be installing fiber-optic cable at the AADL’s Pittsfield branch. It’s a collage by Ava Lowen, a third-grader at Ann Arbor Open. The piece is part of an exhibit of student work that’s on display on the third floor of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building.

Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and production, gave a brief presentation about the project, describing it as an issue of the library’s ability to meet the public’s demand for bandwidth and connections to the Internet. Pittsfield is the only branch that doesn’t have a high-speed connection, he said. A high-speed connection would provide over 100 megabits of bandwidth. As a comparison, a home cable-modem might be about 4 or 6 megabits.

When Comcast and the city of Ann Arbor were building out a fiber network about a decade ago, the Pittsfield branch wasn’t eligible for a fiber run because of its location outside of the city. Fiber runs allow for nearly unlimited bandwidth, Neiburger explained, because you can always upgrade equipment at either end of the fiber.

The speed of the Pittsfield branch’s connectivity to the downtown library and to the rest of the Internet is about 2% of the speed at the other library locations, he said. “In some ways, it’s a bandwidth backwater, because we’re unable to deliver the data as requested out there.” It reaches “up to capacity and beyond” every day, he added.

After exploring different options, the staff arrived at three alternatives, including the option of keeping the current system. The recommended option is to contract with Merit, an organization that since the 1960s has focused on serving the state’s educational market. Neiburger said that Merit proposed building a new fiber run from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) on Wagner Road over to Pittsfield. It would be much more expensive to build a fiber run – “literally cables hanging from poles,” he said – from the downtown library to the Pittsfield branch.

Merit has a robust fiber network, he said. It includes providing the downtown library’s Internet connection – originating from city hall at Fifth and Huron, then linking to the nearby Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, where Merit has equipment, then connecting to the AADL building at 343 S. Fifth. Merit also has equipment at the WISD, and is able to offer the library a gigabit of bandwidth – 1,000 megabits. The connection would run from downtown to Pittsfield, via the “wire closet” at the WISD and new fiber between the WISD and Pittsfield, which the library would pay for. In this option, the library would pay $112,150 plus an ongoing yearly cost of $2,625. It gives the library a 1,000 megabit connection, compared to the current 1.5 megabit connection – a 600- to 800-fold increase in performance, he said.

Another option would be to contract with TDS, the library’s current phone vendor, to build a new T-3 connection of up to 45 megabits. It would be faster than the current connection, but still only about 5% of the connectivity at other locations. This option has a very low one-time cost, Neiburger noted, but the annual cost for the service would be $27,000.

Given the cost structure and the established location of the WISD infrastructure, Neiburger recommended proceeding with Merit to build a fiber connection from the WISD to the Pittsfield branch. The initial cost of the build would be paid from the library’s fund balance in the next fiscal year, with ongoing annual costs paid out of the communications line item in the budget.

Pittsfield Fiber-Optic Project: Board Discussion

Margaret Leary addressed the process, saying it’s the perfect example of how the board handles these kinds of recommendations. The matter had been initially reviewed by the facilities committee. Leary, who chairs that committee, had reported on the proposal at the April 15, 2013 meeting. Next, the staff is making a presentation this month, and the board will vote on a formal resolution next month.

Jan Barney Newman told Neiburger that people have asked her why the library needs more bandwidth, “because everybody does everything on their cell phone these days.” But the library does need it, she added, so what’s the best way to respond to these questions?

Neiburger replied that the library is about the only institution in town that offers high-speed wireless connections to the public at no charge. People can bring their laptops to the library and get a connection that’s faster than a coffee shop or any other location, he said, and you don’t need any credentials to use it. A lot of people use it to download large files that would take a long time to download at their home. “In many cases we’re providing connectivity that’s faster than what’s available in their own homes,” he said.

Ed Surovell, Barbara Murphy, Margaret Leary, Ann Arbor District LIbrary, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: AADL trustees Ed Surovell, Barbara Murphy and Margaret Leary.

People work at libraries, he noted – that’s been true for centuries. Now, working involves “consuming bandwidth.” People also use it for Skype to make calls overseas. The library is providing a critical public service, he said, “and we take that responsibility very seriously.” Every year, the library experiences more and more demand for data service.

Referring to Newman’s comment about cell phones, Barbara Murphy clarified with Neiburger that to have any kind of wireless connection, you also need some kind of wired infrastructure. That’s right, Neiburger said – saying that everything that every device connects to is ultimately connected to a wire. Also, he said, a fast mobile connection on a phone might be 400k, or 4 megabits for a really fast connection. For the fiber network, “we’re talking 250 or 300 times that, so it’s on a different scale.”

Prue Rosenthal wondered whether it would have been cheaper to make the connection from the beginning, when the Pittsfield branch was built. Neiburger replied that it wasn’t an option at the time, although the building was constructed with conduit because staff was “hoping that this would happen someday.”

Nancy Kaplan wondered how technology has changed since the branch was built. Would it have been the same speed then as the current proposal? Neiburger explained that after a fiber run is built, “the technology can advance without building new infrastructure.” New equipment can be upgraded at either end of the fiber, he said, “to get more speed out of the same pipe.” Using a highway analogy, Neiburger said fiber provides an infinite number of lanes that you can add, by upgrading equipment at either end.

The fiber run will bring the Pittsfield branch up to the same standard as the other locations, he said, which is state-of-the-art for public libraries. There are organizations that have 10 gigabit connections, but that’s on a scale for institutions like the University of Michigan, he said. If the equipment to run a 10 gigabit connection comes down in price, it’s possible for the library’s fiber to support that.

Outcome: This was not a voting item. A resolution for the contract will likely be presented at the board’s June 17 meeting.

Response to Open Meetings Act Questions

During the May 6 meeting, board president Prue Rosenthal read a statement that responded to issues raised at previous meetings during public commentary about the board’s compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. Specifically, complaints have been made that the board’s committee meetings aren’t open to the public.

The board is scrupulous about adhering to the letter and spirit of the law, Rosenthal stated. The board’s bylaws state that all committees are advisory in nature, and don’t have the authority to take final action or set policy on behalf of the full board.

“We do not hold secret meetings,” Rosenthal said. “We do not discuss the library’s business if there are more than three of us in the same place.” All board decisions are made during public meetings, she said, and the committees simply make recommendations to the full board. [Because the committees consist of only three members – that is, less than a quorum of the board – they are not required to be open to the public. There is also no requirement for the meetings to be closed.]

Rosenthal highlighted excerpts from the OMA, which she said she took from the online Michigan Open Meetings Act Handbook. [.pdf of OMA handbook] The OMA requires a public body to give notice of when it meets. “We do this,” Rosenthal said. All decisions must be made at a public meeting that’s open to the public.

She read from the handbook:

All decisions must be made at a meeting open to the public – the OMA defines “decision” to mean “a determination, action, vote, or disposition upon a motion, proposal, recommendation, resolution, order, ordinance, bill, or measure on which a vote by members of a public body is required and by which a public body effectuates or formulates public policy.” The OMA provides that “[a]ll decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public,” and that, with limited exceptions, “[a]ll deliberations of a public body constituting a quorum of its members shall take place at a meeting open to the public.”

“We do this,” Rosenthal stated. She then read a section related to advisory committees:

The OMA does not apply to committees and subcommittees composed of less than a quorum of the full public body if they “are merely advisory or only capable of making ‘recommendations concerning the exercise of governmental authority.’”40 Where, on the other hand, a committee or subcommittee is empowered to act on matters in such a fashion as to deprive the full public body of the opportunity to consider a matter, a decision of the committee or subcommittee “is an exercise of governmental authority which effectuates public policy” and the committee or subcommittee proceedings are, therefore, subject to the OMA.

“I believe we do this to the fullest extent of our ability and to comply completely with the law,” Rosenthal said. The board has consulted with lawyers in the past, she added, and will do that again if the need arises. “I hope that will put to rest people’s concern about the Open Meetings Act.”

Response to OMA Questions: Public Commentary

At the end of the meeting, David Diephuis addressed the board, saying he appreciated Rosenthal’s strong statement regarding the state’s Open Meetings Act. He agreed that sometimes people nitpick. But he noted that Rosenthal had addressed the requirements of the act, which the board certainly is following, he said. “My question to you is what is allowed under the act. I believe this community wants more than what’s required.” The OMA doesn’t limit the board, he said. It would allow the AADL board meetings to be filmed, for example, and it would allow the public to attend committee meetings. “That, I think, is the true spirit of the Open Meetings Act.” Allowing the public to attend committee meetings and posting videos of board meetings online would be great ways to increase communication with the community, Diephuis said.

Diephuis pointed out that the AADL’s own philosophy statement states that the library “accepts the responsibility of serving the entire district by providing free and open access to its facilities and services for all members of the community.” Free and open access is a wonderful, worthy value, he said. “I hope that you will embrace that value, and look to open up some of your committee meetings and provide video of this board meeting.”

Public Commentary

Three people spoke during public commentary at the start of the May 6 meeting.

Don Salberg said he wanted to revisit the library’s failed bond referendum. He said he had posed questions during public commentary at AADL’s March 18, 2013 meeting and subsequently received answers. Now he wanted to respond to those answers. He had examined the 2007 report by Providence Associates, which had highlighted needs of the library. One of the premises, he said, was an expectation that there would be a 16% growth in Ann Arbor’s population by 2020. Last year, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) published a forecast of only 6.1% growth in Ann Arbor by 2040, he said. “There’s quite a difference here, and the incremental years have changed the prospects of population growth – this should be considered.” There’s a much less urgent need, he said.

David Kloiber, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

David Kloiber, a junior at Skyline High, was hired by the Protect Our Libraries PAC to videotape the May 6 AADL board meeting.

At the time of the Providence report, there was also a question about how the Internet would impact library services, Salberg said. Since then, when Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects was hired by the library to develop schematics for a new downtown building, Salberg said the architects stated that very few people were coming to the library to do research because they were using the Internet to do that work.

Salberg said he had attended informational meetings that the library had held last year about the need for a new downtown building, and at those meetings at least three major deficiencies in the existing building had been cited.

One deficiency was that it didn’t have a large enough meeting facility, and that the current basement multi-purpose room only holds about 100 people. When there are large events with overflow capacity, people are directed to another room to watch the event on closed video. But he said he was told there were only 13 instances of this happening last year. “That doesn’t seem like a great demand for additional space by itself,” he said. Although it would be nice to have an auditorium with comfortable seating, there doesn’t seem to be urgency for that. Other issues that were cited about the downtown building included the elevators and outdated electrical facilities, but Salberg felt those issues didn’t present major problems and could be addressed without a new building.

Salberg noted that 55% of the voters had rejected the bond proposal for a new downtown library in November of 2012. One way to look at that is to say that 55% of the voters like the library as it is, he said. There has been some suggestion that the referendum was defeated because voters weren’t property informed, he noted. “I disagree. I think we have an intelligent population and I think they understood what was going on.”

Bob Rorke addressed the board, saying he’d been hired in January by the Protect Our Libraries political action committee to review AADL’s operations and to suggest alternatives for the system’s future direction. From his review, he has concluded that the AADL is well-funded and well-managed. He praised the library staff and management, noting that services have been maintained despite a “substantial” loss in revenues because of the economy.

Rorke said he’s confident of these findings, but less clear about the future direction of AADL. The administration has been proactive in offering new direction and services as the basic functions of lending material and providing reference resources become outmoded, he said. Those new services include podcasts, gaming, ESL programs, and lending of specialized materials like musical instruments and telescopes.

“My question, though, is: Are these initiatives viable in the long term?” Rorke said there seems to be no tactical plan or document that describes why these particular services are being offered, and what their impact has been. Lots of questions remain unanswered, he said, including what the future potential demand for these services will be, what resources are needed to provide these services, and whether there is competition from either new technology or other community organizations.

In November of 2012, voters “resoundingly” defeated a bond issue for a new downtown library, Rorke noted. “Some have suggested that the voters didn’t appreciate the library, and some have questioned whether the communication to the public was adequate. I don’t believe either of these arguments are valid.” Rather, the initiative failed because “the public couldn’t understand how we got from today’s library to the library of the future,” he said. “And after four months of study, I don’t see it either.”

Anna Solomon, Barbara Murphy, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Onna Solomon, left, talks with AADL trustee Barbara Murphy following the library board’s May 6 meeting. Solomon had addressed the board during public commentary.

There is speculation that the library’s future role might be in local media production, local archiving or a public meeting space, but there’s no detailed plan or evidence to support that vision, he said. Rorke said he’s sure the board and administration will challenge this conclusion. Although a vision has been articulated, he concluded, “this is the challenge for the Ann Arbor District Library – to present a factual, realistic plan to support the vision.”

Onna Solomon introduced herself as a new mom with a five-month-old son. She had voted in favor of a new downtown library, and believes that parts of what it represents are very important to the future of Ann Arbor. One of the reasons she settled here is because of the library system. It’s an amazing resource for young families – she uses the library all the time. She also praised AADL’s storytime events, saying it was a wonderful way to meet people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet in your neighborhood. The point of having a larger meeting space is to have a community center that could promote new opportunities. As she raises the next generation of Ann Arborites, Solomon said, “I really see the value in expanding and in changing [the building] in order to meet new needs.”

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

Absent: Rebecca Head.

Next meeting: Monday, June 17, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. Traverwood branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive (at the intersection with Huron Parkway). [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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  1. May 9, 2013 at 12:12 pm | permalink

    I’ll be sorry to see the rfid tags go. I love being able to drop a stack of books on the checkout machine. But it never seemed like a future-proof technology to me. Barcodes should still be readable 100 years from now.

  2. By Donald Salberg
    May 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm | permalink

    The video-recording of the Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (May 6, 2013) can be accessed through the Protect Our Library website:


    or directly through YouTube:


  3. May 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm | permalink

    The Library Board room is one of the best public audio and video wired rooms in the city. Many meetings in this room have been recorded for the city’s Video on Demand program.

    The meetings can be recorded at very low or no cost. Requiring an outside group to hire a videographer at their expense is inconsistent with the concept of true open and public meeting.

    The idea that the Library Board believes that the library should heavily invest in extensive video equipment for loan or public access when they are unwilling to use the equipment available to them today is either ignorance of the technology or hypocrisy.

  4. By fridgeman
    May 10, 2013 at 11:14 am | permalink

    I use the Internet at Pittsfield about twice per month. I have never, ever, had any issue with connection speed – even when there on the busiest weekend afternoons.

  5. By James Jefferson
    May 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm | permalink

    The library does a great job with our tax money as far as I am concerned and I would have been willing to pay even more. Great to hear of the savings found in switching back to more base technology. The bar code also has the ability to extend the technological aspects of the library into the future, in as much as smart phone apps can also recognize bar codes, maybe there are ties ins as yet unthought of in this area? I agreed they will be readable for a long time now. The RFID was nice but this is better.

  6. By John Q.
    May 10, 2013 at 10:43 pm | permalink

    “One of the premises, he said, was an expectation that there would be a 16% growth in Ann Arbor’s population by 2020. Last year, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) published a forecast of only 6.1% growth in Ann Arbor by 2040, he said. “There’s quite a difference here, and the incremental years have changed the prospects of population growth – this should be considered.” There’s a much less urgent need, he said.”

    The Ann Arbor District Library serves a greater area than the city of Ann Arbor. The population growth in the city isn’t the appropriate metric for comparison. One has to factor in future growth in the surrounding townships which will likely be much higher percentage-wise than the city.

  7. By Doug Jewett
    May 11, 2013 at 6:33 am | permalink

    I very much value the comments of David Diephuis with regard to the Open Meetings Act. I had, over the last year, identified him as a patient observer and apparent good listener. Now to that, I have to add – an eloquent and exact commentator in response to issues at hand. We can all benefit from his example.

  8. By Rod Johnson
    May 11, 2013 at 8:23 am | permalink

    Re #6: Thank you for pointing that out, John Q. The townships are often left off people’s mental map of questions like this. Another example is when people respond to AAPS’s transportation budget problems with “why can’t they take an AATA bus?” But AAPS has students who come from many miles outside AATA’s service area, from North Territorial to south of US-12, and from Baker Road on the west to east of Curtis.

  9. By Libby Hunter
    May 12, 2013 at 9:11 am | permalink

    I sent the following email to the AADL director, Josie Parker.

    May 10, 2013

    Josie Parker
    FOIA Coordinator and Director
    Ann Arbor District Library
    Ann Arbor MI

    Dear Ms. Parker:

    I am requesting the following documents under Michigan’s Freedom of Information statute:

    Emails and all written documents between staff, board members and consultants regarding the Allerton Hill consulting firm from November 2012 through date of this request.

    I would like the material in electronic format.

    If you believe any item is exempt from FOIA, please describe the item and the reasons that justify the exemption.

    If the cost will exceed $10, please contact me.

    Libby Hunter

  10. By Libby Hunter
    May 14, 2013 at 10:05 am | permalink

    The AADL staff was able to find ways to allow for raises without a tax increase. Are there other opportunities for savings that do not affect services? From the AADL website:

    Ann Arbor District Library Values

    Excellence in customer service
    Providing, supporting, and advocating access for all
    Acting with initiative, creativity, and flexibility
    Working together, with enthusiasm and optimism, to reach goals
    Responsible stewardship of resources

    Are there other opportunities to better align funding with the library’s values without increasing the budget? Are there opportunities to expand services to underserved populations? Are there opportunities for cost savings by collaborating with other entities, including CTN, A2 City and AAPS?

  11. By Libby Hunter
    May 21, 2013 at 7:59 am | permalink

    Here are documents provided in response to FOIA request to Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) requesting emails and all written documents between staff, board members and consultants regarding the Allerton Hill consulting firm from November 2012 through date of this request: [link]

    AADL staff hired Allerton Hill for $28,000 to perform a Communications Audit and Plan. The website is [link]

    If you review the documents and the Allerton Hill website, you can draw your own conclusion on why Allerton Hill was hired.