opinion: AADL needs to take a hard look at what improvements they believe would be most valuable to downtown library
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
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.