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AADL Trustee a Tough Choice in Complicated Times

As I continue to research my fellow candidates and their qualifications for the office of Ann Arbor District Library Trustee, it is clear to me that we are all well-intentioned, well educated, and big supporters of the AADL. The question then becomes how to pick four from eight. I think the answer lies in looking at which set of skills and qualifications is best aligned to the mission and current strategic needs of the AADL.

How do you select 4 candidates from the pool of 8, very qualified, individuals?

Coming out of our televised candidate forum last night, (available soon), I was pleased to see a lot of synergy between the different candidates. I truly believe each candidate I had the pleasure of meeting last night has the best interest of the library at heart. There were some key differences that emerged in terms of approach and background, but there were also several essential consensus themes.

  1. The library needs to remain true to its mission, that equitable access to information and resources is of the highest importance and to do so may require some change.

  2. The AADL Board of Trustees needs to engage in not only strategic planning, but also the strategic implementation and evaluation of strategic plan initiatives and goals.

  3. The AADL and the AADL Board of trustees should engage in a community-oriented process of redefining the physical footprint of the downtown library space.

  4. While the physical collection is important to serving the mission of the library, the board needs to consider the evolution of the library both in terms of its physical space/physical collection(s) and in terms of its virtual presence.

As a voter, I am relieved to see agreement on these issues, because, ultimately some combination of four of us will be working together. Having some alignment in vision is something that can only help move things forward. In choosing your four candidates, one really needs to look at the unique backgrounds and professional experiences of each candidate and make a decision about which set of skills best aligns the candidate to provide leadership in achieving those four strategic themes outlined above. What follows is an explanation of my own experiences and some explanation of how I feel those experiences have left me well prepared to contribute to the AADL Board of Trustees and in helping them implement their strategic vision successfully.

In the forum last night, there were many points where we all expressed our own positive feelings towards the library. And while my personal feelings may have prompted me to action, as a candidate I approach this race from a community action perspective not a personal use perspective. I think the library plays an essential role in addressing many of the social problems our community faces. Education, under-education, literacy, technological literacy, youth illiteracy, and information access are just among a few of the pressing issues the AADL helps our community address. I want to help safeguard and improve these resources for our community. Not just for my family because we use the library services, but for the community as a whole because these essential services are one of the last publicly funded front-line action agencies we have.

I also think that the current moment is an important one for the AADL. We are so lucky to have a well-funded, supported, and forward-thinking library in our community. That said, if we want to remain visible nationally and continue to provide innovative services and spaces locally, we have to begin to look at 21st century users and their unique media needs. Creating an environment that bridges traditional roles with innovative thinking is essential to the long-term survival of many organizations, especially those organizations working in the areas of education, technology, and information literacy.

In many ways this means conceptualizing the library space, physical resources, and virtual resources as was done in the Westgate Branch remodel. At Westgate, if I want to grab a book and read, I can. I can also hold a community action meeting where a group can come together, use interactive, wiki style Google tools, and have the appropriate technological and physical infrastructure to support both. The Internet does not signal the end of the library. It signals the next evolution of our library where we share and interact not just locally but globally. Imagine what could be accomplished when we can begin to develop strategies and infrastructures that allow our children and ourselves the ability to explore media, literature, art, and communication not only as a member of the Ann Arbor community but rather as a member of the global community with a global perspective. Carving out a role in on that scale is a challenge I would love to help the AADL take on.

The current climate is complex for the AADL. The library needs a board membership that understands not just brick-and-mortar services but also the virtual space; a board that understands how to provide education, service, and training in the virtual space. The library needs a board membership that understands education, how education works, and the importance of high level strategic planning in helping an organization achieve complex, multi-facility, educational/community service goals. In this regard, I consider myself very qualified.

In the past five years not only have I worked to improve educational access to at-risk student populations both traditional and adult, but also I worked with my team to reinvent our own library and media center. My team and I have researched and built a state-of-the-art lab and learning facility for information technology and engineering. I have a doctorate in educational administration that has prepared me for advancing complex learning goals in both the physical and virtual spheres of education. In my professional life I have led and consulted on numerous start-ups and construction projects. Day-to-day I spend my time focusing on improving educational delivery systems, improving operational effectiveness and excellence for educational and community action agencies, and working to help kids from under-served communities overcome the structural barriers they face when trying to better their lives through education. My research background is in adult education, technical education, and using technology to overcome barriers to educational access and success. My daily activities require me to work to take on the enormous and diverse challenges of higher education and to do so while maintaining operations and strategy that are sustainable, financially responsible, and provide for the long term viability of my institution.

Many people, too many to thank, have mentored me and helped me grow as a leader, a collaborator, a business leader, and as a strategic thinker. My bid to serve on the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees is a way for me to continue that work, continue to develop, and a way to share my experiences and leverage my expertise to the benefit my community. I am ready to take this great challenge on and enormously excited by the prospect of doing so.

Dr. Steven Simpson is currently the President of Baker College of Jackson and is seeking a position on the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees in the November 2016 election. Additional information about Dr. Simpson and his candidacy can be found at You can reach Dr. Simpson at, or on Twitter@simpsonaadl.


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