More History of the FADL

More History of the FADL

by Jeff Milo

 

“Libraries play an important part in the life of the community; all can use them.”
Head Librarian Daidee Springer, 1980.

We’ve recently observed several important anniversaries here at the library, some as recent as only five years ago.

Our first anniversary goes back more than sixty years to April 1954, when the Library opened at its current location (222 E. Nine Mile Road). This was a very small move from its original building (130 E. Nine Mile).

The second notable anniversary to remember goes back more than ten years, to November, 2004, when the library attained its budgetary independence from City Hall. Leading up to that point, the available funds for the library coming from the city’s budgets would inevitably be pared back in tough times so as to shore up core services like police & fire. But after losing $100,000 in funding that year (2004), the library’s weekly hours reduced from 59 down to just 40, with our staff cut down to only five full time employees operating the building, (with helpful volunteers shelving the returned books), it was clearly time for a change.

And so, that year (2004), facing yet another deficit (of $400,000)the City Council, as permitted by state law to forgo a ballot vote, moved to levy a one mill tax on residents for the library to “spin-off” from city hall, thus preventing these budgetary scenarios of “no-win competition” between city services should times ever become tough again. This new “autonomous Library system” gave us our own budget and governing board of elected trustees, saving the city upwards to $500,000 and assuring its ability to balance the following year’s budget.

As of FYE 2015, more than 85% of the Library’s financing comes from millage revenues, which are directly tied to property values in the city. Until housing values rise, a library like Ferndale’s will be forced to work with shrinking budgets. That’s why we are so thankful for the support of our community. In just the last year, generous contributions from individual citizens and businesses, along with special fundraising events have raised nearly $10,000 for the library.

Library’s Renaissance

In 1997, the Library Board conducted a citywide survey finding the “prevailing concerns” of patrons were for 1) expanded hours, 2) more space and larger collection of books, 3) providing greater access to public computers.

In February 2007, City Council approved the Library Improvement Plan. The public’s regard for this library, pre-renovation, had dwindled: it was seen as a facility that was small, tired and out-of-date. Former Library Board President Kevin Deegan Krause went so far as to argue that it had withered into “terrible[1]” condition, while members of the Downtown Development Authority said that visiting that old library, as it was, felt like “walking back in time.”

The expansion plan would modernize us back into what many felt we could (and should) be: an anchor of the downtown and a jewel of public space at the center of the city, combining historic preservation and environmentally conscious design. Mary Ann Neal, serving board president in 2007, inspired voters to support the millage’s vision: “a renovated, welcoming, technologically advanced, environmentally-friendly space for citizens[2].”

And the citizens responded, voting over 2 to 1 in favor of the millage; once again, showing vital support for our service.

So, we have another happy anniversary: we recently marked five years since the expansion’s groundbreaking, updating us into a 21st century facility. We doubled in size, expanded youth/children’s space and the computer lab and extended hours. This would be a “green space,” using high-efficiency geothermal heating/cooling along with an ecologically minded “green roof” outfitted with a rainwater treatment system recycling water for irrigation and restrooms.

This was actually the first significant renovation in our 60 year history at 222. In 1980, cuts to the city budget left the Library’s lighting system severely lacking; how, one wondered, were you able to read all those “out-dated[3]” books or leaf through its crowded card-catalog under dim, flickering lights. Back in 1980, (our 50th anniversary of service), former Head Librarian Daidee Springer said that this library should be appreciated as “the catalyst for ideas in the Ferndale area.”

Even as some residents opposed the $3.7 million expansion on the basis of the notably lengthy millage plan (spanning 20 years – increasing taxes $65/year for most homeowners), the Ferndale Citizens for a Better Library instilled support, proclaiming that “a strong, healthy public library is a vital resource that will add to the quality of life.”

Health and Vitality of a Community

Before renovations, the Library’s initial Improvement Plan affirmed it to be a public asset that enriches the entire community, focusing attention on the importance of reading and learning. The “Library Task Force” that conducted surveys back in 1998 surmised that the library can be “a key measure of the health and vitality of a community,”as well as a fine expression of Ferndale’s collective values and overall identity.

Thus, a renewed, expanded library, saving energy with its eco-minded design, has fulfilled many expectations in just five years, featuring art exhibits, hosting more guest authors and offering more special events and programming for all ages. Artworks of local authors consistently hang in our community room which itself has hosted free monthly music concerts for four years’ running.Along with more community reading events and book clubs, our programming for children has increased significantly.

We’ve entered the 21st century, as well, with our patrons able to access eBooks and MP3-audiobooks using their library cards (via our website), along with an augmented social media presence and a self-checkout station at the circulation desk. Indeed, we’ve come a long way since going digital after donating our old card catalog to the Historical Society.

An outstanding building with nevertheless outstanding support from its community is still not immune to the deficits inevitably offset by an economy that’s recovered at a veritable snail’s pace. Undaunted during a period of austerity, the library promises to continue providing the best service possible, with access to more than 100,000 titles in books, film and music, with now 40 public access computers and a calendar-full of special programming and hosted events for the public.

We needed a better library and we got it. Now, we need to take care of it with due diligence thus that it can only feed back into the high esteem in which we hold our community, our city, our neighbors; such support sustains a quality library—thereby inspiring quality in the collective character of Ferndale.

 

[1] Woodward Talk, Jan 2007

[2]Woodward Talk, May 2008

[3] Daily Tribune, September 1980