I confess….I voted against the Library Millage

Shocker!…yes, I voted against the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) millage last November.  Although the anti-development crowd wants you to think that the millage failed because the community is tired of new development downtown, there is nothing further from the truth for many of us.  I wouldn’t mind a new library downtown. The issue for me had to do with the cost benefit ratio of what was proposed.

I actually love libraries. I use my branch all the time.  I think that libraries are necessities that every city should support.  The reason for me was simple.   I thought 70  $65 million dollars was way too much money to spend on a status quo building that is equivalent to an investment in a state-of-the-art typewriter factory back in the early 1990s.  These typewriters would have had all the bells and whistles including a silent, easy carriage return and an improved correction tape!  But all those improvements would have been all for naught because the internet exploded and most households went out and purchased a computer and printer.  The typewriter became obsolete except for a few rare uses.  No matter how new and modern the factory was it would still be obsolete very soon after its construction.

The proposal for a replacement library1 was too similar to that situation.  The library board proposed a building that was essentially a modern version of what they have now.  My hope was for a new building that looked toward the future, with a changed mission and/or vision.  A library that expanded their collection into different avenues as items became dated or less popular.  A library that looked at what they did well and at what they lacked.  Their proposal just seemed to be more of the same and never spoke to that.

The mission of the current library is to lend informational resources to its residents.  However, that mission is becoming less relevant to the community of the future as each year passes.  Bookstores are going out of business due to lack of interest in tangible books.  More and more people are foregoing books and reading on E-readers.  Newspapers are not printing on paper anymore. Almost all research materials are available on-line (encyclopedias, newspapers, ect.). Video rental stores have even disappeared.  These primary lendable resource items in the library’s collection are transforming and becoming electronic.  A large building to house books and other resource items will not be needed.  Smaller would be better.  Something similar to what our branches provide.

However, if you look at what the smaller library branches are missing, it is a large children’s section.  They do have a children’s section, but it is quite small and is nothing like the children’s library at the downtown branch.  It would have been visionary if the AADL board recognized this and planned to build a State if the Art children’s library center downtown, complete with tutoring, hands on museum activities, computer training, maybe even something fun like a puppet theater.  It of course would have all the basic library functions such as story time and reading contests.  It would focus on all aspects of learning, not just lending items.  Maybe 826Michigan2 can run a group of tutors out of the center?

There are some libraries out there that have already embraced this concept.  The IMAGINON:  The Joe and Joan Martin Center in Charlotte, NC is similar to what I am talking about.  It’s a library, a children’s theater and so much more.  We wouldn’t have to be THAT expansive, but something different or cutting edge would be nice.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love the library. I love my branch. I love the selection of items that the AADL offers.  Most library users, such as myself, use our home computers to look up the items we want and order them.  We then stop in to one of the branches (Mallets Creek, Traverwood, Pittsfield, West or Downtown) and pick up our items that are waiting for us, labeled with our name, on a shelf near the front door .  There is no more browsing through the stacks looking for a book.  Although I do recognize that some people do enjoy meandering through the stacks, Amazon.com has trained a new generation to browse by computer.  Do we really need to spend 70 million dollars on a modern building with outdated uses?

I think the mission of the library of the future is to not only provide access to informational resources for borrowing, but more importantly to provide training, knowledge, and tutoring to cover a broader aspect of learning for the entire community.  They should become learning centers instead of a building to house books and informational resources.  It is a different primary mission and vision, but will be a necessary change if libraries overall do not want to go the way of the commercial bookstore and video rental stores.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get free hands on training for popular computer software programs such as ADOBE Photoshop ect, web design programs, graphics programs along with Microsoft office products?  I would much prefer the library offer free computer classes for the community than purchase the thousands of DVDs that will be come less popular as Netflix and on-demand programming takes off.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have much larger computer banks so that there is not a wait for those who don’t own a computer at home or for those who can’t get on the family computer at home?

Wouldn’t it be nice for the library to provide training or lectures on such things as taxes, government, and other public programs?

Spend your funding on teaching and learning resources, instead of on oversized infrastructure.  Spend your funding on a children’s center (not just a library) that is what the current system lacks.

We can accomplish all these things in a smaller building with classrooms, computer banks, and a check out counter in the front for items ordered over the AADL webpage.  Take out the stacks in the branches and expand on the learning center concept instead of the borrowing concept.

Now, some will argue that the new proposed library was going to increase community meeting rooms space and that it is something the community wants and asked for.  Personally, I think the library has plenty of meeting rooms…most appear to be empty much of the time when I visit the library.  What people want are FREE meeting rooms.  The library charges a fee for all their meeting rooms except for the one free space, which I do believe is booked up most of the time.  Unless the new rooms are free, I don’t see the addition of new rooms solving any sort of problem.  What the library does lack is an auditorium.  In my eyes, an auditorium doesn’t justify spending 70 million dollars on a poorly conceived building, but I wouldn’t object if it was part of the new cutting edge children’s center!

So now I hear some of you screaming about how the library shouldn’t be building a convention center for the DDA or the city….yadda, yadda, yadda.    Puh-lease.  One auditorium does not make a convention center.   A few additional meeting rooms do not make a convention center.

However, as an aside, I need to mention something in full disclosure so you don’t misunderstand me.  I am very much for a large hotel/conference center downtown that is privately owned.  I think a small conference center attached to a hotel would be great for the downtown.  Notice that I said conference center and not convention center.  The difference is in the number of people it can hold.  A hotel/conference center would allow  conferences to be held downtown with the attendees staying downtown.  Most people visiting Ann Arbor want to walk around the downtown not be stuck on the outskirts of the city every evening.

Over the years I have had many business colleagues visit Ann Arbor who chose to stay at the Marriott in Ypsilanti because Ann Arbor had such terrible hotels (their words not mine).  Most of the newly built hotels in the city are extended stay hotels, while the daily hotels are old and outdated.  Maybe since some of these hotels have recently undergone renovations, their attitude will change?  It has been embarrassing listening to them complain about the quality of our hotels.  With that said, I don’t think any type of conference center ran out of our public library is a good fit and would like to see it attached to a hotel.  I also don’t think that was that the library’s intent at all.  I am just responding to the naysayers out there who were pushing that scenario last year.

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City of Ann Arbor Justice Center
(Police/Courts building)

Anyway, I’ve digressed.  So back on topic….

What it came down to is that I was not willing to spend 70 million dollars on a new building that did not modernize the mission and vision of the library.  Why $70 $65 million? Our new Justice Center only cost $45 million and it is quite large, beautiful, and modern.  Simply, I did not want to end up with a “large, expensive typewriter factory” sitting on the corner of William and Fifth.

My hope is that the AADL board takes a step back and asks library users, especially younger people, why they voted no.  It had nothing to do with being anti-development, and everything to do with their lack of progressive and forward thinking ability.

ex libris

-MOTL

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1 AADL Millage Proposal November 2012

2  826michigan is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students aged 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

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