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Posted on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:37 a.m.

AADL needs to take a hard look at what improvements they believe would be most valuable to downtown library

By Guest Column

Ann Arbor Library.jpg

Lon Horwedel |

After nearly 40 years as an Ann Arbor resident, I no longer live in the city. Nonetheless, I have a view of the downtown library based on my frequent personal use of its resources. It also matters that my oldest daughter became a shelver at the downtown branch at age 14, a position she held until she graduated from The University of Michigan.

It's not obscene that the library board sought to upgrade the library. What's obscene is the predictable way they went about it. The Ann Arbor District Library board has long-behaved like a clique, rather than finding ways to "click" with the patrons that use library services. (I suggest you follow up with current local residents on that assertion).

My view is that the AADL board was shell-shocked at the defeat of its proposal because various neighborhood library renovations had met with comparatively little resistance. How dare patrons not go along with the all knowing downtown AADL! They have an image to preserve and cost is not a barrier to preserving its image (or so they thought).

The appearance of being too "buddy buddy" with the DDA hurt their campaign even more. While Kathy Griswald's group energized patrons who had genuine questions, the millage would have failed anyway. Some input on your story from locals suggesting there is significant underutilized space is right on point. The arrogance of the AADL board in failing to do a space study of its current location is far too "in your face" to ignore.

Other patrons have suggested the current library is compromised because of the presence of homeless people who have body odor. There are many patrons, not homeless, who suffer far more from that hygienic dysfunction than the homeless.

By law, homeless patrons can't be excluded from library services. As to where they should go, someone should be questioning the Board of the Delonis Shelter on making more efficient use of its unused space and revising its policies to reflect the dilemma of current homeless persons. Local tax support of a multimillion facility with only part-time use is a distressing and extremely wasteful event.

When the shelter is not being utilized at night for beds, its space should be converted to job search classrooms during the day that the homeless can attend. There are many educated, but underemployed or unemployed patrons who also use the computers in the libraries.

Hating on the homeless is not a solution for lack of planning on the Board's behalf, nor is it a valid excuse for the ignorance of any who would find any reason to direct vitriol at the homeless.

Reconfiguring the current space at the AADL to achieve needed upgrades is a preferable, affordable option. A newly constructed library will still be unable to discriminate against the homeless. The fact that Kathy Griswald and others have pointed to that population with derision appear insensitive and hateful. Those qualities are only as predictable as the fact that the AADL has been clueless, superficial, and wasteful in its library operations long before the last millage defeat.

When patrons witness an upgrade in the books, tapes, DVDs and other collections that promote library use, they may be more amenable to seeing those resources in a more attractive setting, whether it has been renovated or rebuilt. When the library board stops treating its current space as if it was an extension of meeting space for the DDA or local businesses instead of prioritizing it for patron use, then it will find a supportive ear for its initiatives.

Not least of all, the harsh critics of homeless visitors to the downtown AADL should find time to identify underutilized space so they can offer reading or literacy classes, or even coach homeless patrons on valuable interviewing or job search skills.

The primary service of libraries is to enhance literacy. It is not the duty of the AADL or its board to act as a lackey for the DDA. As for partnering with U-M, don't hold your breath. The cost of a U-M library card to nonstudents is far more expensive than AADL library privileges for non-residents of Ann Arbor.

People expect downtown businesses to be expensive and accept that parking will be challenging. Library patrons do not have an expectation that use of library resources will be inaccessible and unaffordable. The AADL Board needs to take a hard look at what value is most important to the success of library usage, (e.g., improving literacy and narrowing the achievement gap in the Ann Arbor Public Schools) and not what makes them fit into a downtown environment that is obstructive to library use.


Bill Wilson

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 1:04 a.m.

One more lastly from me ;), Putting aside the homeless debate that is going on here (count me as NOT wanting to exclude any legit library use), there is one thing we must all accept: Whether you like my notions about the library or not... you WILL have to accept them. In a very short period of time, the libraries will all be digital. Printed books, magazines, and newspapers will go the way that record albums, tapes, cd's, and dvd's, have gone. Now, we can do what has done, and get in FRONT of the movement, or we can wait until we're forced to change. If we choose the latter, we'll waste countless resources that could be spent to help those in need. Seems like something that Ann Arbor ought to know, without being told.

Bill Wilson

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 12:49 a.m.

Lastly, Many books that go out of print disappear, never to be seen again. What a loss to mankind. With an online library, no book EVER disappears. Read that last line again. That alone, is an argument that cannot be overcome.

Roger Kuhlman

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 9:07 p.m.

AADL needs to stick closely to its basic mission and reason to be in providing library services and not expand into all kinds of peripheral cultural performance and spcial events. These other types of activities are very expensive to house and should not be what the library is tasked to do. I think most Ann Arbor residents expect the Library Board and Administration to act in frugal and fiscally responsible ways. Renovate existing buildings do not build completely new state of the art facilities. We do not need and can not afford a Library system that is obssessed with status and state of the art.

Scott Reed

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 10:10 p.m.

This is the worst thing I have read in a long time. Libraries are an essential public space, and not only because they have books. The AADL has a vast array of high-quality, free public events and services, from concerts to computer classes and many more. The downtown library is particularly great because it is in the dense, walkable (read: worth CARING about) part of Ann Arbor and is conveniently located near public transit. If you have a problem with homeless people using the library, you are a bad person, and you should feel badly about yourself, and you do not belong in society. We should especially welcome homeless and under-served people to the library, not just because it is a place of "literacy", but because it is a place of education and empowerment.


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

I have a problem with being told flatly that I'm a bad person who doesn't belong in society unless I share your views. Do you accept that judgment for yourself if you don't share mine? Like A2tom, I have no problem with USE of the library by homeless people, but (as he points out) treating it as a day shelter is not appropriate use. Yes, of course I understand that homeless people need a day shelter, and I agree that spending time in the library can be very good for people. But do you understand, Mr. Reed, that hanging out, sleeping, and surfing the porn sites don't constitute 'education and empowerment'? Any homeless person who's making use of library resources to improve his or her condition is as welcome as any other patron, as far as I'm concerned. For that matter, a homeless person who's quietly reading or looking at something non-offensive on the computer is welcome. But you seem to suggest that because libraries are places where education CAN occur, they must open their doors and provide their facilities unquestioningly and unstintingly to people who are manifestly not making use of the educational opportunities--and who may in some instances be preventing others from doing so. Does that make sense?


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 2:27 a.m.

I have no problem with a homeless person USING the library for it's intended purpose's. I have a big problem with homeless people using it as warming shelter "its not" a place to view pornography "it's not" or a place to get drunk, sell drugs and's none of those's a LIBRARY not a DAY SHELTER.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 11:08 p.m.

Hear hear.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:55 p.m.

The reason I will not go to this library is that I do not feel safe there. I remember that a man had exposed himself there, the smokers out front....the bad behavior...NO THANKS!!!


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:23 p.m.

Odorous homeless people (or, as the author suggested, homeowners/renters with bad hygiene) are not restricted to Ann Arbor. I used to live in Chicago, and the downtown library on Van Buren was absolutely full of these folks trying to fill their day with activities. Anyways, we should continue to scan books into online databases, and use our savings from *not* renovating the library to upgrade this city's wired/wireless infrastructure.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7 p.m.

I believe that the title is appropriate but the content tneds to meander away from the core issues. The core issues derive from what the libraries business model should be including what are the current and future service components, who uses these services, and is the faiclitiy sufficent for these services. In addtion, one needs to look at the shifting patron uses patterns and demographics. In specific should more resources be allocated to branch locations based on user demand.

Elijah Shalis

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

Just tear down the main library and replace it with nothing. The branch libraries work great and have no homeless problem.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

Typical self-centered viewpoint of someone who got their local branch improved through taxes paid by all residents in the district but don't want the same to happen elsewhere.

say it plain

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

I feel so ignorant...I didn't realize until justnow that the town's shelter isn't available to the homeless population *except for bedtime*?! Are you kidding me?! Wouldn't changing that go a looooong way toward improving the patron's experience at the Downtown Library?! How could the AADL even think for a second about asking taxpayers to foot the bill for a pretty new palace with lovely new sunny offices for the staff and meeting rooms for the DDA, ehrm, I mean, *the community*, mostly at night when the homeless have gone off to Delonis and parts unknown... whilst *not* addressing how computer stations and chairs and bathrooms are in near-constant use by 'patrons' who present serious challenges to the atmosphere?! You can take issue with (mine, or anyone's) apparent "attitudes" toward the homeless population taking up space at the downtown AADL, but you can't argue that "we don't have enough computer stations" or whatever for all the AAPS students and other AA citizens who need to use the downtown library if essentially it is serving as a day shelter. *Because we don't maintain a day shelter elsewhere*! Wow. AADL should ask the city to fix that before they even think about coming back to the citizenry with a request to spend any more money at all. AA citizens should question their spending of the money they may have available currently for renovating that downtown facility until use of it as a de facto day shelter is addressed. How much 'space' and resource use could be freed up by addressing the needs of the people who are currently using the library in the day and the shelter at night? *That's* something the AADL should be telling us.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

"Someone should be questioning the Board of the Delonis Shelter on making more efficient use of its unused space and revising its policies to reflect the dilemma of current homeless persons. Local tax support of a multimillion facility with only part-time use is a distressing and extremely wasteful event." Well said!

Mich Res and Alum

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

If I recall correctly, the new library was voted down 55-45. That means 45% of voters wanted a new library. Yet, about 90% of readers are constantly complaining about the so-called waste of money. It seems a vocal minority turned into a vocal majority. The library was voted down. Why are we still publishing guest columns about a new library being built? Why are we publishing such poorly constructed arguments in guest columns? Do we have standards, Or do we know that this is a hot button issue still and that it will generate page views? It would be nice to see two well-writted, well-argued, well-edited pieces about the issue, one from each side, that were full of facts instead of flimsy anecdotes. It would have been nice to get this before Nov. 4 and not on Jan 3.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 11:07 p.m.

Veracity, why do you keep pushing this convention center canard? The library board and staff are only interested in have the best library possible for library functions. And no, Zingerman's would never want to use the kitchen there either. Not everything is a conspiracy.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

"Why are we still publishing guest columns about a new library being built?" The answer is because the library staff, board and the DDA want to transform the library into a convention center such as was included in the Valiant Partners Proposal that City Council rejected. The additional 50,000 square feet planned for the new library will accommodate huge meeting rooms and a kitchen and dining area were in the plans also. The DDA is hopeful that the plentiful conference space will justify building a luxury hotel over the Library Lane underground parking structure even though the entire hotel/convention center concept is not considered feasible by Chuck Skelton, a local expert in hotel and hospitality centers, Once a new ploy has been determined the bond referendum will return to your nearest ballot box.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 9:34 p.m.

Man, GoNavy, that's some assumption. You really think that the only people who voted yes for this thing aren't tax payers? I've owned two houses in Ann Arbor, and I voted yes.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

45%...47%...what's the difference? I suspect the majority who voted the measure down were the ones who were being asked to pay for it.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

@Bill Wilson: "Why go out to a library, when we can bring the library directly to our homes?" Why have parks, when you can plant some grass in your yard? Or play a video game that features grass?

Somewhat Concerned

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

Perhaps the law doesn't allow the library to toss out drunks, druggies and smelly homeless people who sometimes panhandle in the building, but the law certainly doesn't require us to vote to tax ourselves to renovate the library to more comfortably accomodate even more of them. Or to host lectures and receptions that push social and political agenda liked by the library powers. I would gladly pay a little more in taxes for a better library, but that's not what we would have had.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

Drunks and smelly people can be thrown out of the library. And they should be.

Bill Wilson

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

One more time, and let's see if this one disappears: The entertainment industry has brought their business directly to our homes via On Demand, Netflix, Hulu, and many other internet, satellite, and cable services. If I want a book for newspaper, I can get it delivered to my home too, instantly, and much cheaper than the cost of a physical book. Most newspapers are FREE. Why go out to a library, when we can bring the library directly to our homes?

Bill Wilson

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 12:46 a.m.

Nick, Gotta call baloney on your post. Quite obviously, you have internet access. As such, you have Google, YouTube, Project Gutenberg, nearly every newspaper and magazine in the world, etc, etc. We could create the greatest free online library in the world, and still have enough left over for homeless shelters and free laptops for all of our students. Why would anyone be against this?

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

It is truly wonderful that you can afford to pay for all of those subscription services. Though I find their catalog is limited. And it is also wonderful that you can afford the devices to display the content. You mentioned having a home in which to consume the content. Awesome! And it is also wonderful that you know exactly how to obtain the information you need. Many people do not have those luxuries. Many people must ask librarians for assistance finding the information they need, among the vast amount of content that is not available on the internet in any form. Me, I like to read research. Those papers often cost $20 or more each. And books. Books that routinely cost more than $100 each. I don't want to own those books, I just want to borrow and read them.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Correction to my typo: I meant to say: "The fact that the writer is NOW out of the area is no excuse for these omissions once he climbs onto the soapbox, in my opinion."


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

I'm a frequent library user. Having come from another college town, back East, I can say with some perspective that the AADL is a jewel and is to be commended and supported. That being said, I was, and am, unconvinced that the type of expenditure being discussed for a new library can be justified in this economic climate. However, in my opinon, the fault of this piece is that it sorely lacks specifics - especially regarding all this alledged "underutilized" space. Further, the writer implies that the collection development is sub-par. I strongly disagree. The collection is nothing short of astounding, based on my experience. (The fact that the writer is not out of the area is no excuse for these omissions once he climbs onto the soapbox, in my opinion.)

Bill Wilson

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

So, where did my post go? I broke no rules and violated no policy. Where's my post?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

The second floor of the downtown library has become a hostile uninviting environment who's primary use is cruising porn, playing Farmville and sleeping off hangovers. The security staffs full time job is breaking up fights, searching the bathroom ceilings for drug drops and escorting inebriated "patrons" out. I used to work there....I saw it all day every day, it would turn my stomach when a mom would bring her kid in to do some research for a report or find a newspaper article and turn on her heel and rush out the second she saw the porn on the computers or the "patrons" yelling obscenities at each other. I recall a small day shelter near Ashley and Huron back in the day, that needs to happen again on a larger scale.

Jamie Pitts

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 4:28 a.m.

This can be addressed without major construction projects. For example, a space could be rented closer to the shelter for adult education and use of provided computers.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:53 p.m.

The library in Westgate mall is just as bad as this one!


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Really, maybe we should consider shutting this one down and re-deploying the resources to the branches.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

While your statement " There are many patrons, not homeless, who suffer far more from that hygienic dysfunction than the homeless." makes it seem you like the smell of the homeless, you give no info at all that would support such a conclusion. On the flip side, the Library is there for everyone, not just the homeless.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

Let's not forget the threats of Extortion. Taxpayers were told that they must approve the $100+ million for the new library, or we would be forced to pay 90% of that amount for a renovation. It was implied that we would not have a choice on the outrageous expense of renovation. Who produced and approved that piece of bile - that strategy to threaten voters with a 90% mandatory cost? Did the board vote on that language?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

I was with you for a while. But then.... The basic take away is that we need to reconfigure the library for homeless people. 11 mentions and 6/13 paragraphs discussed that. No thanks. The library is not a homeless shelter.

Jamie Pitts

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 4:23 a.m.

"The library is not a homeless shelter." I think that what the community is trying to do is actually deal with the factor of homeless people (or smelly people, or insane people, or addicted people). By painting this issue as "for" or "against" homeless people we indulge in civic denial. It is like pretending that it does not snow in Michigan. We design stuff for ourselves because we can function enough to design, and they simply can't. The reality is that these folks go somewhere and we need to design a place that deals with it.

Basic Bob

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:14 p.m.

Homeless patrons deserve equal access to DDA staffers. They can share a room.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

@Nicholas; I think you missed my point. The library is not a homeless shelter. If we are to approve funding to convert it into a homeless shelter of sorts, then it is no longer a library. Every bit as disingenuous as using it for a DDA office - except maybe some of those DDA people pay library taxes.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

Not exactly, Nicholas. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and, in Michigan, weight is invidious and illegal. Discrimination--in and of itself--on the basis of economic status is not illegal. That's why lenders can give loans to those with good credit and refuse loans to those with poor credit. Nor is discrimination on the basis of personal habits. You can be told not to smoke or drink in any number of public places. What you can't be told though is that a public place that is normally open to all members of the public without limitation is suddenly closed to you for any reason that doesn't apply equally to all others. A public place is just that. Yet, although, open to all members of the public when some members create a nuisance and effectively deprive the use to others, then it becomes necessary to strike the balance to the greater good of the taxpaying public that makes the facility available. Loitering, offensive odors, panhandling, boorish behavior all rise to the point of denying access to other members of the public. No one can deny a member of the public access to a public place, but that place can have rules of behavior and decorum. That's never been disputed anywhere. For example, see what would happen if you went into a courtroom here in AA, laid down on the seats and went to sleep. As for the article, I think a lot of what is being said is that the Delonis Center is not living up to its responsibilities. That may or may not be the case. I don't know. But, I don't think the author is calling for the library to be adapted to the homeless as much as she's criticizing the Delonis Center--rightfully or wrongly--in its efforts to serve the homeless.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

It is against the law - and very wrong - to discriminate based on whether someone owns a condo, house, or a cardboard box with some blue tarps. Owning a house does not make anyone more special, or confer additional rights. Nor does being in a car, rather than walking.