Today, we’re joined by Josie Parker, Director at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), an acclaimed US public library service in Michigan.
As Josie approaches her seventeenth year with the organisation, she took a little time to answer four quick questions about her journey with Ann Arbor – and what’s next for the Michigan library.
How did you get started at AADL and how has the organization changed during your time there?
I have been Director at AADL 16 ½ years. I came to work at AADL in 1999 as the Youth Department Manager. The Library was a very traditionally organized public library institution that had suffered a financial scandal leading to imprisonment for one administrator, and the eventual resignation of the Director.
I had been promoted to interim Director during the end of the upheaval, and was later offered the job. I took it without intending to be in one library most of my career, and yet, here I am. It is an awesome library and the community is very supportive financially, as well as, politically. We are able to take library services in many directions sometimes stretching them beyond recognition. We consider that a positive outcome.
What’s your proudest career achievement so far?
I wanted to give the AADL back its place of trust in the community, and we have by developing a culture of generosity within the staff and with our public. We say “yes” as much as possible, and we give the staff the freedom to use their own judgment much of the time. If we expect the best of people, most of the time that is exactly what we get.
Ann Arbor is a prosperous college town with a lively university library, makerspaces, teen community programs, and lots of cultural opportunities for consumers and creators alike. How does AADL carve out a distinctive offer in this ecosystem?
The public library shares and loans to everyone in the community; it belongs to all of us equally. The community responds to the democratic place the library holds here with respect and support. There is room for all that you listed above and more and it won’t change the use and vibrancy of the AADL.
What’s your biggest challenge looking ahead ?
The biggest challenge is two fold. Financial sustainability is never far from our consideration. We are better situated financially than most American public libraries, but there is a limit to our funding.
The second one is I think the biggest one. The wider community is struggling to maintain an attitude that the public library is a worthy public good. The AADL has positioned itself well to stave off this retroactive thinking, but we are challenged weekly about how we choose to spend taxpayer dollars on programming and activities that are not considered public library mission. The Fifth Avenue Press and PULP are two current examples. The challenge is the balance between what comforts people in a time of great discord and uncertainty in America and what comes next with technology.