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Posted on Sun, Nov 11, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Thoughts on the failure of the Ann Arbor library bond

By Guest Column

Related article: Ann Arbor downtown library bond proposal defeated: What now?

Voters sent a clear message to the leadership of the Ann Arbor District Library this week: This community is not willing to provide an open checkbook for a monumental downtown library.

It would be folly to imagine that advocates failed to convey the intent or the message, and that given another go, the results will be different. The message was clearly conveyed and clearly rejected.

Ann Arbor Library.jpg

Lon Horwedel |

The 'day-after¹ headline on asked "What now?" I have a few possible answers, or more accurately, some more specific questions:

First, let's step back as a community and ask ourselves what we want our library system to look like in 10 years, or in 25. What are the core principles that drive our vision for the system? Are those core principles best served via expanding investments in buildings, collections, technology, staff, or in other ways? What is the ideal model for our library system over the long term?

I don¹t pretend to have answers for those questions, and I¹d suggest that the members of the Ann Arbor District Library Board be open to rethinking their own predispositions as well.

Second, then, let¹s bring fresh voices to the conversation. Is there an opportunity to tap the resources available via a premier set of academics in the University of Michigan¹s School of Information? What evidence-based suggestions might they make about the relationship between a community and its library resources?

Might it be that decentralization of information dissemination becomes a part of that model? If we were to suggest that access to information and educational resources were a part of the first question, that is, a part of the mission of the library system, might it make sense to look at how we can best place information at the fingertips of users?

The next question -- which can only follow from the previous, not precede it -- is about the infrastructure of our library system. Few will seriously argue that the current downtown facility is perfect, or that the West branch is anywhere near adequate. At the same time, we cannot claim to have good geographical distribution of library resources equally available to all users throughout the district. Residents at the perimeters of the district do not have the ability to walk or bicycle to a library. Does that matter?

Would an model of a virtual system, with a central warehouse and efficient distribution of information in a variety of physical and electronic media turn out to be the way forward? Are physical meeting spaces, be they downtown or elsewhere, most critical? Would a reintegration of school libraries and branch libraries work? Is there an opportunity for synthesis between the university collections and the district resources?

Another way to think the challenge starts with money. We all recognize that having a top-notch library system costs money, but this becomes the sticky wicket: we are fortunate to live in a community that is willing to commit substantial public money to a great library system and enjoys the benefit of that system. That said, the community does not have bottomless pockets, which means that there are choices to be made.

Start, as an example, with the current downtown facility. If starting from scratch is off the table altogether, and the budget for improvements to that facility was limited to, say $6.5 million, how would you choose to approach the problem? (If your reflex is, "That¹s impossible, it must be knocked down," please stop and start over at the top of this letter.) What are the highest priorities?

More broadly, what if an anonymous donor wrote an unrestricted gift to the district system tomorrow for, say $15 million? How would you spend it? On facilities, additional staff, more technology? Please remember, the answer to this question follows from the previous questions, and that the most important part of the question is not the amount, but how you order priorities, given any limited sum to spend.

Take the principles on which we collectively gain consensus, and the creative input from some fresh voices, acknowledge the realities of funding limitations, and let us know what you learn. The result might well be that we look back on the defeat of the bond proposal this year as a great blessing, because it allows the growth of the system in ways previously unimagined.

Please consider the recent bond proposal rejection as an opportunity. Seeing it as a defeat, and limiting your response to conjuring a variation of the same pitch in another year or two, would be a grave disservice to the community.

We treasure our library. Let¹s use the opportunity provided by the attention to our library system as a way to maintain and enhance the greatness of the library as a whole, not just as a monument in the city¹s skyline.

(This article was submitted by Glenn Gottfried of Ann Arbor.)



Wed, Nov 14, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

I find it interesting, in the past the first response of AA residents was to throw money at any problem. Power brokers are stunned that in this case, rational thought won the day.

Delena M Harrison

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

I do not get why people want to GO to the library. I want to hear comments from people who use the library. What is it that you use from a physical library? Can this be brought to you at your residence? I personally want books and information available at home and at my convenience (and not taking up too much space in my house). The building is no longer what I need. If people decide we need a community center that provides meeting places, then let's call it a community center, no a Library. I'm not convinced that we need a BUILDING for library resources. We could use the money requested in the proposal to provide technology to AAL residences and then we could move to the Amazon model like Gottfried mentioned. We spend money for schools to get technology and then spend money for a new library and new library resources. Maybe it's the same technology and resources that everyone needs. There maybe a small percent of residence that need a library "cafe," which could also provide resources to visitors. just some thoughts...


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 3 a.m.

Crazy talk will get you nowhere on this board Mr. Gottfried. In a city of entitled "me firsters" this kind of analysis is just plain crazy.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

Like the "me firsters" who said redo West Branch first? Or the ones who said they only wanted new branches closer to them? Or the ones who said resurface their road first?


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.

I think more fresh perspectives and ideas should be added to the library discussion. However, I also wouldn't underestimate the role that the economy played in this proposal's rejection. If this proposal were presented to voters during a more prosperous time when we weren't cutting basic city services, would it have passed? Quite possibly. Of course, we don't know when the economy will be booming again and shouldn't necessarily wait until then to do anything about the library's condition.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

As Doctor McCoy would say, "It's dead, Jim".

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

Not so fast Brad! They brought spock back. If you think this library is dead, you've got another Horta coming. I wouldn't want to be caught wearing a red shirt and saying it won't happen.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:38 a.m.

I totally disagree with your devaluing of the downtown branch. Downtown IS my local branch. And I have never found the smaller branches to offer up rich or satisfying browsing or research opportunities. Looooove the downtown library.

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Try the bus, brimble.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:57 a.m.

" Looooove the downtown library." ,,,,so you are all set then. Good. We are both in agreement that the downtown branch is fine as is.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.

So should resources be applied to improving your "rich [and] satisfying" local branch, or to offering some resources to more of the community, who might not happen to live downtown?


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

Next time keep the Ann Arbor and Saline DDAs out of the pie -- and the AA Art Fund. Make it a library only proposal.

Peter Baker

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

The 1% for art fund was not part of the project, since it's only for City projects, but DDA exclusion isn't an option, it's state law.


Sun, Nov 11, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

A bond for new branches -- a replacement for Westgate, an additional near-northside, something on the far east side of town -- would make much more sense than a redux of the downtown project. Take the library to the people, rather than make them come to the library.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

@Ron -- that view is exactly the limited thinking that the article talks about. What you have is a comprehensive library that shares a great collection, staff and resources. Neighborhood libraries enable children to spend an hour after school on any given afternoon where getting downtown might not be practical. They are democratic in providing better access to more people.

Linda Peck

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

I have no idea why people think the west side branch is inadequate. We are all happily using this out here and I have never not found a nice seat and I order what books I don't find there through the larger system. It is cozy and clean and nice. Don't fix what ain't broke, okay?

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

And then you have a bunch of little libraries with limited selection, capabilities and resources.

Linda Peck

Sun, Nov 11, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

I think we need some new input on the board for AAPL.


Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 5:24 a.m.

So Glen what does your comment mean? Maybe the board ought to accept the peoples's voice and quit trying to shove a 65 million dollar debt down our throat. Just because they were reelected doesn't mean the community supports every decision or that wee were too uninformed to vote for them plunging us further into debt with little value added.

glenn thompson

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

The library board is elected, not appointed. The only candidate in the recent election that opposed the bond proposal was defeated. All of the board members that were reelected supported the construction of a new library building.


Sun, Nov 11, 2012 : 10:49 p.m.

Too bad the A2 staff couldn't fix the typos from the cut and paste... Clearly if supporters of the proposal don't understand the message they were sent, they'll lose even more support for future ideas.


Sun, Nov 11, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

"The message was clearly conveyed and clearly rejected." Unfortunately, not clearly accepted by many who were central to the new building campaign.