opinion: Failure of library bond would be turning point for community
I confess that I’ve been out of the loop for the past several weeks. I only returned home from a couple of extended trips to discover that opposition to the proposed library bond had emerged. Although it was painful at times I have done my best to read all of the comments. Many were simply off-the-wall, some misleading, and others genuine but misinformed. Many of the questions posed could be answered by consulting the library's own website.
As a former Director of Libraries at the University, president of the American Library Association, and a member of the Ann Arbor District Library's board for almost five years, I believe I’m qualified to comment on the proposed bond issue. We in Ann Arbor are blessed to enjoy the services of a nationally recognized library. It is remarkable what the library’s staff is able to accomplish in a building that time and change has rendered functionally obsolete. Its layout and structure reflect the way libraries functioned in the late 20th century. One can’t renovate functionality into the building because it is architecturally obsolete as a library.
In spite of reports that the digital age would render libraries less vital as a community resource, in fact the opposite is true. I continue to be impressed by the number of communities that are now constructing or have recently constructed strong central libraries. These communities recognize that a strong downtown library not only serves as a magnet for attracting new businesses, families, and activity downtown, it also produces economic benefits for each dollar invested. This economic impact has been born out in several recent Return on Investment (ROI) studies.
The current building has served the community well throughout the years. Those who were instrumental in its construction should be thanked, but if Ann Arbor wishes to remain a community that serves as a magnet for talented people, it needs a first-rate library. If the bond issue were to fail, I believe that people will look back and say this failure represented a turning point in the history of the community.