Why I’m voting for our new downtown library

This election season I’ve been volunteering some of my time to reaching out to the community about why we, as a community, should support the bond that would build a new downtown Ann Arbor District Library. On the fence about it?

I strongly encourage you to visit ournewlibrary.com and read up on why we need this.

This bond is about a building and the support the building can provide to the library and its services. We are beyond lucky to even be given the opportunity to build a functional, forward-looking library building in a country where many public libraries are being shut down.

I encourage you to review how AADL’s efforts stack up nationally to other public library initiatives: ournewlibrary.com/blog/its-relative-the-ann-arbor-district-library-in-comparison

Or you can read on for my perspective.

This is based on my experiences as: 1) a public librarian who worked at a public library during a new build and experienced the benefits of the new construction to the community; 2) a user of the AADL services and places of both the downtown branch specifically and of other branches; 3) a professional with experience collaborating with the AADL on community-centered programming and with knowledge of what it is like to use U-M resources to support community-centered activities.

 The building is unsustainable.

  1. The heating and cooling systems between the different eras of construction don’t interoperate. This is inefficient and unacceptable with today’s technological opportunities to streamline energy use and waste. It physically can’t be done retrofitting the current structure, except at an exorbitant cost that would not solve the problem long-term. See: ournewlibrary.com/current
  2. The digital infrastructure is ad hoc and insubstantial to meet the demand of information and resource needs today. The library will continue to need to host several computer servers to support the computing needs of the library collections and the needs of patrons. See: ournewlibrary.com/blog/aadl-under-the-hood

The building is inaccessible.

  1. Parts of the building were built before the ADA act which means that there is only one bathroom that is wheelchair accessible, the elevator is not safely big enough to fit a wheelchair. I experienced working in a non ADA accessible and it was not pleasant to have to turn away patrons with disabilities because they could not physically access our collections. See: ournewlibrary.com/current
  2. There are two collections that are currently housed in warehouses offsite that are not accessible to the public except on request (i.e. a patron has to request an item, no browsing). These collections are the Ann Arbor News archives and the Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled. We owe it to our community to support a library that can provide full, public access to the collections it supports.

The building cannot meet our needs.

  1. The main part of the building was built to support tons of paper and its infrastructure is so rigid that the interior cannot be remodeled to suit current usage needs. This means 1) there are not clear sight lines to provide a secure environment for children, teens and patrons (staff have to leave service points periodically, security must be hired to provide coverage); 2) the interior cannot meet demand for programming: the downtown branch has outgrown the children’s space and the auditorium space for its events meaning that children and their parents are forced to attend programming in public spaces, blocking access to the rest of the collections (that stairwell) and blocking access to the checkout stations, also making it hard to quietly read in other areas during this programming.
  2. The library is forced to RENT incompatible spaces for many of their events now because they attract too many people; 3) there are not enough small meeting spaces for folks who need to meet downtown. This is becoming an increasingly apparent problem as folks start working in new ways (e.g. as consultants, from their home, as independent business owners, or contractors) that don’t offer stable office space.

This checklist of deficiency is too long and too fundamental for me to ignore: safety, sustainability, access, services. Why would we want to keep a building that absolutely doesn’t serve us anymore except as a warehouse?

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