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Posted on Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Library board prepares to consider next steps and future of downtown Ann Arbor library in 2013

By Ryan J. Stanton

As leaders of the Ann Arbor District Library look ahead to the new year, they're still reflecting on the recent defeat of their proposal for a new downtown library.

Several questions remain after voters shot down the AADL's request for approval of $65 million in bonds to build a new state-of-art facility at the corner of Fifth Avenue and William Street.

Will the library board go back to voters with a revised plan in 2013? Will the AADL instead move forward with renovations to the existing downtown library?

Or will it be a year of reflection and little action?


Ann Arbor library officials argue the defeat of a $65 million bond proposal in the Nov. 6 election doesn't change the fact that the existing downtown library, which dates back to the 1950s and was last renovated in the early 1990s, is outdated and isn't designed to meet the needs of today's patrons.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The next steps will be up to the whole board," said board president Margaret Leary. "I expect we will carefully review the entire situation in the first few months of 2013."

Leary said that includes taking a closer look at the condition of all of the AADL's buildings, any decisions the city makes about downtown properties it owns, the impact of changes in taxation such as the repeal of the state's personal property tax, the economy and more.

Leary's term as president ends this month and the board's bylaws prevent her from being president for a third consecutive year. The board will elect new officers at a meeting in January.

Otherwise, the board still includes the same seven members who unanimously decided to put the question of a new library to voters earlier this year.

Board member Nancy Kaplan said she doesn't think the board will try going back to voters or push ahead with any major renovations to the downtown library in 2013.

She predicts the board instead will have a thoughtful discussion about the message voters sent when they turned down the library proposal by a 55-45 margin.

"I think there's a lot for us to consider," she said. "We did not have a Plan B when we went to the voters, and so now we need to reconsider, and there's a lot going on with the DDA."

The Downtown Development Authority is getting ready to present a plan to the City Council for redeveloping five city-owned properties downtown. That includes the public parking lot next door to the library on Fifth Avenue, and the public parking lot directly across the street.

The library's facilities committee has met since the defeat of the bond proposal, but the board as a whole hasn't had any discussions about how to move forward yet.

The board canceled its December meeting for lack of business.

'Part of the solution'

Kathy Griswold, who headed the campaign to defeat the library proposal, said members of her group want to stay involved in the discussion as library officials consider their next steps.

"We had a lot of energy and passion during the campaign, and a significant number of people who worked on the campaign really wanted to move forward and become part of the solution," she said. "We started meeting the week after the election, and a lot of work is being done."

Griswold's group is beginning to take a closer look at the stated arguments in favor of a new library and trying to find ways to solve the underlying problems without a new building.


Patrons enjoy a quiet corner on the first floor of the downtown Ann Arbor library on an October afternoon.

Ryan J. Stanton |

For instance, one of the reasons stated was a need for additional meeting space, and so Griswold's group is compiling a list of all the available spaces in Ann Arbor that can be rented.

"We feel strongly the problem is not a lack of meeting space," she said. "It's the lack of being able to easily identify and rent space, so we're researching what space is available in the community."

Griswold said her group feels like the focus has been more on structure and not services, so it's going to try to identify what services are needed and alternative ways to meet those needs.

The group also is planning to do a benchmark analysis comparing Ann Arbor's library system to those in other peer communities.

Griswold said her group will be looking into equity issues as well, finding out ways to get more library services in low-income areas. And she's hoping the library board will agree to create a citizens advisory committee to help provide community guidance to the board.

"We also want to address the need for a homeless day shelter so that it's not something provided by the library," Griswold said. "There is a large homeless population that uses the computer equipment up on the second floor of the library and the question is: Should scarce library dollars be used to provide a day shelter for the homeless population?"

Griswold filed paperwork with the county this month to create a new political action committee using the same name as her ballot question committee: Protect Our Libraries.

"I guess we want to get out in front of another library bond, and at the same time we want to be part of the solution," she said. "We don't want to just speak against things that are proposed by the library. We want to be in the planning stage for how to improve our libraries."

According to post-election finance reports, Protect Our Libraries raised a total of $35,807 in cash and in-kind contributions during its campaign to defeat the library proposal. That came on top of $2,963 that local resident Doug Jewett put into his own campaign to defeat the proposal. Advertising agency McCullagh Creative contributed nearly $30,000 worth of in-kind ad services to Protect Our Libraries.

The Our New Downtown Library campaign in favor of a new library reported $81,227 in cash and in-kind donations in its post-election report.

All options on the table

Library officials argue the defeat of the bond proposal in the Nov. 6 election doesn't change the fact that the existing library, which dates back to the 1950s and was last renovated in the early 1990s, is outdated and isn't designed to meet the needs of today's patrons.

But there's no point in taking the same $65 million proposal back to voters, so the board will have to think deeply about its next steps, said AADL Board Treasurer Barbara Murphy.


The downtown library as it looked in September.

Ryan J. Stanton |

In the meantime, she said, the AADL will have to do its best to keep the current building in good shape, and that might require some repairs or upgrades.

"I think what 2013 will bring is a lot of analysis, another look at our current building and our branch buildings, a look at the entire way the library serves the community, and a look at what the community wants from the library," Murphy said, adding all options, including renovation, are on the table.

Local voters approved the establishment of the AADL in 1994, at the same time approving a 2-mill levy in perpetuity to fund library operations. Due to Headlee limitations, the library is allowed to levy up to 1.92 mills right now, and it's levying only 1.55 mills at the moment.

The library board theoretically could increase the levy to 1.92 mills without a vote of the people, and that could raise about $1.6 million in new annual revenue. Murphy said nothing like that has been decided, but that might be one of many options library officials discuss in 2013.

As for the library's ability to undertake any kind of renovation project, Murphy pointed out the AADL has no debt. And as of November, it had an unrestricted cash balance of nearly $15 million.

"We work within our budget," Murphy said.

Griswold said her group wouldn't be opposed to the library increasing its operating millage to the approved level and raising an extra $1.6 million a year.

"We are not anti-tax," she said. "We want excellent library services."

Griswold said her group includes about 11 members and they're looking forward to cooperating with library leaders in 2013. They plan to hold a community forum in January.

"There's no hostility," she said. "We understand where they were coming from and why they went forward with the bond proposal. We just don't think it's the right solution."

The library board was criticized during the campaign for not having a more detailed plan — not even a single drawing — showing what a new downtown library could look like. While some believe having detailed plans and renderings could help sway more voters, board members maintain it doesn't make sense to spend that kind of money upfront before the project has been approved.

A number of voters also indicated they had concerns about losing access to their downtown library for two years during construction, suggesting it might help if library officials communicated a solid plan for keeping a downtown branch open in temporarily rented space.

While it remains uncertain if the library board will try going back to voters, it's apparent board members still believe a new downtown library is needed.

"We do need an auditorium. We need a better reading room. We need much better infrastructure for current technology and whatever technology might be coming in the future," Murphy said.

Kaplan agreed.

"This library — the layout of it and the way the space is used — is very dated, not convenient, not friendly for people with disabilities, and not up-to-date for the way libraries are being used now," she said. "It's time for an improvement, time for an investment, and time to move forward."

Murphy said the library's architect previously determined a complete renovation of the downtown library would cost only 10 percent less than a new building. She said the board hasn't looked at what it might cost to do renovations piece by piece, and maybe that's worth studying.

Asked about last month's defeat of the library proposal, Murphy replied: "We were not aware there would be so much misinformation put out there, and we weren't prepared to confront that.

"A lot of people who were upset about our plans didn't come to any of the public meetings. We're looking forward to the new year and talking more with the public and with each other."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Linda Peck

Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

For the downtown library, if there are repairs that need to be made, then the Library Board should move to quickly take care of these. If the repairs are not done, then they may be ruining what is there for us, the public, to use. Beyond that, the library should be clean, tidy, orderly, and the space should be well used. There is a lot of empty space that could be put to use, as libraries traditionally hold items to check out. The library is working well for me and for my family as it is now. Please, Library Board, don't ruin it just because you can.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

I have sympathy for the library staff and the library board. They must be enduring considerable pressure from the DDA to press forward with a program that will transform the library into a convention center. The details for the use of the additional 50,000 square feet announced as part of the new library must exist in order to price the bond referendum at $65 million. However, this information has not been provided to the public. A 400-seat auditorium is admittedly in the designs but would likely require less than 10,000 square feet of space. A kitchen and dining area also mentioned would occupy a considerable amount of additional space in order to service 400 or more convention participants. Such a plan could explain Zingerman's recent support of the bond referendum. The DDA requires the new library conceptin order to draw conventioneers who would stay at the luxury hotel. The DDA proposes a luxury hotel for the adjacent site over the Library Lane underground parking structure as part of its "Connecting Williams Street" effort. Of course, after defeat of the Valiant Partners Hotel/Conference Center proposal recently, the DDA and the library staff fear a similar fate should they attempt to resurrect plans similar to the Valiant Partners proposal. Many voters likely saw through this subterfuge and voted against the new library bond referendum in order to prevent such a development. Of course, the reasons why Chuck Skelton, a respected hotel and hospitality expert, panned the Valiant Partners proposal remain unchanged at this time. The need for additional library space to accommodate the many educational and entertainment programs sponsored by the library is a narrow centrist viewpoint. Popular programs could be presented at each of the outlying branch libraries on a rotating basis while larger presentations could use classrooms and auditoriums in convenient neighborhood intermediate schools.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

The DDA's own map shows Ann Arbor population grew in the uptown (UofM) and downtown areas and in the near Southwest side along Main. Every other community where most of the taxable housing exists saw a loss in resident number. Since 2008 the University has added about 700 more students every fall accounting for the bulk of city growth. The rest in Washtenaw is outside of the Ann Arbor tax base. The library system expansion around the city's periphery has worked well for this new out crowd except for the car-less from Ypsi who are better-served downtown. Unless the DDA intends to build more low-income family housing or homeless shelters into its downtown master plan (it isn't), what should the library board be thinking? The oft-cited large door count at the main library also consist of numerous pitstops from AATA patrons and daily traffic from the homeless downtown seeking secure shelter. So why wouldn't voters want to tax their shrinking family population to erect an Ypsi branch, singles club, or retiree center downtown? Given the emerging demographics of olde Ann Arbor (leaving) and new DDA-town (transients, young professionals, and retirees) the library board may wish to rethink their funding sources for any equally unsustainable development.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

Who run DDA Town?

C.C. Ingersoll

Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

I'm really, really hoping that the 15% of people who voted "Shut it down; who needs libraries anymore?" were being facetious.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

One of the reasons given for a new library was for meeting space. Here is a resource with a long list (and links) of Ann Arbor meeting spaces. It's not comprehensive, but gives you an idea of what's offered in town. At quick glance, the Community Ctr. on N. Main is missing.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

Do what the UM did with all their dorm renovations: revamp, reconfigure, renovate. Be creative with the space you have. UM has lots of money but it would have been three times more expensive to tear down a dorm and rebuild.

Mich Res and Alum

Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

But that's exactly the point. It would have only been 10% more expensive to tear down and build than to remodel (~ $5M extra in a $50M project). I'll admit I voted for the library's proposal. There was a lot of misinformation put out there and there were some solid concerns. However, most of those concerns had legitimate responses. Some didn't. It seemed most people concerns were "Let's not spend money." I get that - over the last 6 years, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend more money. What I learned in this article today, though, was that the library can increase their millage at any time they want and have another $1.2M come in. They choose not to and still run a balanced budget. They have constructed beautiful branches on the outskirts of town. They have proved to me that they are a very responsible organization. Population is growing downtown. It deserves to have a major center that can be shared by people, that can host events (auditorium), that increases public access to computers and the Internet (a necessity), etc. As for the meeting space? Sure you can supposedly rent out space or find other small spaces - but wouldn't it be useful and effective (and attractive to employers) to have spaces you can reserve in the same building as all the resources the library has to offer?


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

Maybe defeat of the bond proposal wasn't primarily due to "so much misinformation" as AADL Board member Barbara Murphy suggests, but to legitimate differences of opinion. Comments such as that aren't really in the spirit of listening to and responding to the concerns of the community.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

Because the economy and technology has changed so much in the last 10 years, businesses have evolved and started offering more services to survive. It's time for our Main library to evolve and survive. It's not going to be like the old days of check out - check in. If we have an open mind and recognize that things will change and have changed, then a new library with uses beyond check out-- check in , seems necessary.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 11:37 a.m.

Ann Arbor needs this library. People need this library. Businesses need this library. Our children need this library. Our future needs this library. There was a point where Ann Arbor was rated as having one of the best public libraries in the country. We are a highly educated (degrees) city, a renowned college town, the economic beacon of this state, a place of diversity and innovation, and with a updated, modern, and multi use new library, we can be even better.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 11:25 a.m.

They library board has it backwards: they start with thinking about how inadequate their facilities are, then add lots of 'nice to have' features, and present this to us as the concept for the library for the next few decades. Instead, we need to ask first what the role of the library should be in a changing information environment: just a book repository, an information center with enhanced computer access, a provider of after-school education for children, a community center with public lectures? Which of these functions do we want, whcih should be provided by AADL, which may be more efficiently provided in partnership with UM? Then, we can ask what facilities and other resources we need to make such a vision a reality and determine whether it's worth it - but not the other way around.