Discussing the future of libraries with the AADL’s Josie Parker, the scoop on the Depot Town train stop, and plans for Ypsi’s Little Bird cafe… on episode 42 of the Saturday Six Pack

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I’m still playing catch-up, trying to get the most recent episodes of the Saturday Six Pack posted here. I’m sorry that it’s been taking me so long, but life keeps getting in the way. The episode I’m posting here tonight was our 42nd, and, if you’re the kind of person who likes hearing people talk passionately about libraries, trains and coffee, I suspect you’ll really enjoy it… If you get a chance, check it out. Here, in the meantime, are my rough notes.

The changing role of the library…

During our first segment, after a wonderful opening theme song written by our friend Jim Cherewick, we jumped right into a conversation on the changing role of the public library in contemporary America with Josie Parker, the director of the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL). [I’d originally intended to also have on Lisa Hoenig, the director of the Ypsilanti District Library, but she had to cancel due to having the flu.] Among other things, we discussing the library’s role in disseminating information to the community, the AALD’s move into what you might call non-traditional collections, their recent foray into arts and culture journalism with the launch of the online magazine Pulp, and the position the library holds as a common space in a community where such places are becoming increasingly more difficult to find.

My favorite part of the conversation revolved around how leadership within the AADL decides when to embark on a new initiative. After noting how Pulp launched just as the MLive laid-off their arts and culture reporter in Ann Arbor, I asked Parker if she could foresee a time when the library might make a broader push into journalism, filling the gap left by our ever shrinking local press. Parker said that it’s not something that people have been pushing for, but conceding that doing so would technically be within the mission of the library. [note: This is a conversation I intend to pursue.]

After talking about the number of wide ranging initiatives the AADL currently has underway, I asked Parker where, in her opinion, the line should be drawn. In response, Parker said that it’s not the role of the library to care for the physical well being of those in the community. She did, however, say that they play a role, as one of the few spaces that is welcoming to all people.

And we talked about threats to public libraries, both here in the United States, and abroad. We discussed the ramifications of austerity measures in England, and efforts on the part of the Koch brothers’ front group Americans for Prosperity to stop a library millage in Plainfield, Illinois. And, of course, we talked about efforts to combat the legislation that Rick Snyder just recently signed that would bar library employees from communicating about similar millages here in Michigan within 60 days of an election. When asked why it was that anti-tax conservatives had set their sites on libraries, Parker said, “They think (libraries) are low hanging fruit.” Because most of us now have the internet, she said, they think cutting libraries is an easy thing to do. Of course, she adds, they don’t think about the people who depend on the library for the internet connectivity they need to apply for jobs and the like. And they don’t think about everything else that a library does for its community. And, with that in mind, we discussed the longterm costs that ripple through society when libraries are closed.

And we talked about everything the AADL, one of the most respected libraries of its size in the world, had been doing this past year to stay relevant… from digitizing 20 years of articles about the Gelman dioxane plume, to launching a digital press to assist community members interested in publishing their own work online. We also talked about their work with CivCity to increase civic engagement, and their recent push into podcasts.

Here’s Parker talking about how libraries have always been about more than books. The earliest Carnegie libraries, she tells us, were intended to be community centers, including theaters, event spaces, and even bowling alleys.

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[If you would like to listen to episode 42 of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

The campaign to open Ypsi’s Little Bird Cafe…

Then, at the 48-minute mark, after listening to the most recent song by our friend in Kenya, Dr. Peter Larson, we began talking about plans to convert the little red brick building at 908 North Congress Street into a cafe called Little Bird.

While Beth Kwiatkowski, the owner of the building, couldn’t be with us in the studio, as she had to be at a beer fest in Florida, we were joined by two of her friends, Amy and Melissa, who filled us in on the backstory of Little Bird before we got Kwiatkowski on the line. Here they are, telling us about how driven Kwiatkowski is to turn this dream of hers into a reality.

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And, when we got through to Kwiatkowski, we got into the details. We discussed how she’d come to appreciate coffee as an employee of Whole Foods, the feedback she’d been receiving from people in the neighborhood who keep stopping by to check on her progress as she attempts to bring the long-neglected building back to life, and why she wanted to open her coffee shop here in Ypsilanti, instead of closer to her home in Milan. (“All of my friends live in Ypsi,” she said.) And, of course, we talked about what she had in mind for the space (soups, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream, milk, butter, veggies, pastries, etc.).

Here, if you aren’t familiar with the building, is an old photo that Kwiatkowski found while removing old flooring not too long ago.

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Oh, and thank you to those of you who called in and made donations to the Little Bird Patronicity campaign while we were on the air. It was cool to see the numbers going up during the show and know that people were actually listening.

Getting the train to stop in Ypsi…

And, during our third segment, starting at the 1:16-mark, we welcomed Beth Ernat, Ypsilanti’s director of economic development, into the studio to talk with us about the announcement, made just the day before, that the Amtrak Wolverine line would eventually be stopping in Depot Town. [The line hasn’t added stops in over 10 years, and this is great news for those of us who have been wanting the train to stop here for years.] As Ernat reminded us, this likely won’t happen for approximately two years, but the fact that both Amtrak and MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) want this to happen is a huge step in the right direction.

According to Ernat, the city had asked Amtrak and MDOT some time ago to reconsider the possibility of a stop on the line, which passes through Ypsilanti three times a day in the direction of Detroit, and three times in the direction of Chicago, and they just recently got back the positive reply. Amtrak said that, according to their calculations, they’d need 9,000 riders to get on at the Ypsilanti stop per year to make economic sense, and they thought, given our demographics, that this wouldn’t be a problem. [The Ann Arbor stop gets 144,000 riders a year.]

There are, as Ernat said, a number of hurdles that still need to be overcome in order to see this happen. We would need to build a platform, increase parking, and close a few streets, but all of that, she seems to think, are doable. [A few streets crossing the track need to be closed so that the train can pick up speed faster upon leaving the city, allowing it to make up the time lost by stopping here to take on and let off passengers.]

As Ernat pointed out, the important thing at this point is just to get a platform built that will satisfy the needs of all the various stakeholders. We shouldn’t, she said, be trying to create a long term solution, as we don’t yet know what will happen in Depot Town relative to rail traffic. If we get commuter rail to Detroit, in addition to stop on the Wolverine line, there will be a great many more factors that need to be taken into consideration. So, whatever we do, it’s likely going to have to be tweaked in the future. Right now, we just want to get the Wolverine to stop, and demonstrate that Ypsi has the capacity to be a good train city.

I especially liked the part of the interview where we discussed the possibility of a live Saturday Six Pack broadcast from the bar car of the first train to stop here.

And, if you stick around until the end, you’ll hear our friend Chris Sandon come in to share a train story involving what sounded like a gypsy version of the Partridge Family. And, then, for some reason, things kind of went off the tracks, as people began talking about which presidential candidates would likely be the most gentle lovers… You just have to listen… Here’s Chris.

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Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

[Episode 42 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on March 12, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]

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13 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I’m not going to get my hopes up about the train. I’ve learned my lesson.

  2. Kristin
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I am scared that they will close my street. How does that even work?

  3. site admin
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    She names the two streets in the interview. No final decisions have been made yet, though. She also said that there would be public meetings.

  4. Pocket Beaver
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I used to live around the block from that little store when I was a kid. I have fond memories of trading bags of beer cans we collected from the yards of frat houses for snacks and pints of ice cream.

  5. 734
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I very much like the idea of pushing the library to pick up the journalistic slack in Ann Arbor. That would be incredible.

  6. Eel
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Little Bird didn’t raise their $50,000 through Patronicity. Will it still open?

  7. The Little Bird Cafe
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    The Little Bird Cafe will still open even though we did not meet our $50,000 goal.
    It will just take longer.

  8. Tim
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for pointing out that the AADL is able to do so much not only because they’re brilliant and awesome but because of their funding. I know the YDL would love to do much of this as well.

  9. XXX
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Does the train stop make the Thompson Block any more viable?

  10. M. Evans
    Posted April 12, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    You didn’t ask her about the successful campaign against their millage in 2015.

  11. Link
    Posted April 13, 2016 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Buy your Depot Town property now.

  12. Meta
    Posted April 13, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Councilman Murdock appears to think something about the train deal isn’t kosher.

    Council Member Pete Murdock will pay an estimated $400 for a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to a proposed Amtrak train stop after the rest of council chose not to waive the fees.

    Murdock previously said City Manager Ralph Lange won’t provide documents relating to the stop that he requested, forcing him to put in a FOIA request for the information.

    “I’m upset with the city manager for not giving us information. He doesn’t want to give it up, but it’s our information,” Murdock said.

    Council can waive the FOIA fee if it’s determined that the request is for the public good. Murdock contends government transparency is for the public good.

    However, several other council members appear to feel Murdock should pay for the train stop information.

    At council’s April 5 meeting, Council Member Brian Robb put forth a resolution to waive the fees. Murdock recused himself from the vote because City Attorney John Barr said Murdock had a financial interest.

    No other council members seconded Robb’s motion, so it died without discussion. That means Murdock must pay for the FOIA.

    Mayor Amanda Edmonds, Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson, Council Member Nicole Brown and Council Member Anne Brown didn’t second the motion. Council Member Dan Vogt was absent.

    Read more:
    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/04/ypsilanti_city_council_forces.html

  13. Meta
    Posted July 20, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Images of the proposed train stop have been released.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/07/see_drawings_for_ypsilantis_pr.html

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