The Undergraduate Library isn’t the only place in town to get books, though I’m sure many students don’t know about the alternative: the Ann Arbor District Library, or AADL for short. For students from out of state or even out of town, AADL probably doesn’t factor highly into their day-to-day routine. This strikes me as strange, simply because I’m so deeply in love with this library and all it offers to the community.

Sure, there are weeks that go by when I don’t venture down William Street to do homework among child-height bookshelves in the warm and brightly colored kids’ section, but barely a week passes when I don’t at least set foot inside of the downtown library. More often, I’ll make a quick stop to check the hold shelf and peruse in search of new comics while I wait for my bus to pull up across the street. I grew up reading in this library, or at one of its four other branches around town, and AADL has always been a part of my life. I can’t really imagine waiting for the bus without first going across the street to check for books on hold.

Laura Raynor, a Youth and Adult Services librarian who has worked at AADL for many years, emphasized that the library’s mission is to reach as many people as possible and to serve the public in whatever way makes the most sense.

“We’re always thinking about our population,” she said in an interview with the Daily. “Who are we trying to reach? And how can we do that in creative new ways that will keep the library vital in the community.” Because of this, the library has been working to expand its collection in recent years by making objects such as art prints, book-club kits and household tools from telescopes to sewing machines available for checkout.

“We’ve really thought carefully about what should be available for checkout that won’t compete with the local businesses in town,” Raynor explained. While I mainly go for the books, it’s always fun to walk past the art prints and watch kids play with the music mixers or magnifying glasses on display.

“Programming is one of our priorities, and we reach out to all ages,” Raynor said. In addition, AADL offers a number of programs — from video game tournaments to workshops on getting published — that are free to the public. Aside from imparting skills or just offering a good time, the events also foster a sense of community, allowing friends and families a chance to do something fun together or giving people the chance to connect and make friends over their shared interests.

The thought that many students at the University don’t know about such an impressive and versatile resource right here in town is somewhat of a downer for me. I’ve found books at AADL that for whatever reason weren’t available in the University’s library system, and I’ve passed many a productive hour getting homework done at the spacious tables present in every branch. I’ve picked up unusual titles at the Friends Book Shop, a wonderfully affordable place for used-book shopping inside the downtown location. I’ve even won a couple of gaming tournaments in my day.

This is why I was thrilled to learn AADL has been forging new connections with the campus community in recent years. Booths on the Diag and visits to classrooms have helped to spread the word about the library’s services, as have collaborations with the University’s library system. Certain events such as Proyecto Avance: Latino Mentoring Association meetings, which pair students in the Residential College’s Spanish program with families seeking help with English as a second language, and Nerd Nite, a fun monthly trivia event held at the bar LIVE, have served to expand AADL’s reach all the way to people of my own age group.

I find it interesting that some students, then, might come to know the library through these outreach programs, while my understanding of AADL comes from years of exploring its offerings. Raynor emphasized that no matter how innovative AADL tries to become by incorporating technology and new materials into the catalog, the traditional collection of books, magazines and movies still sees a lot of use.

Raynor says visitors come to the library seeking a place of comfort. “They can find quiet here — all of the stereotypical library things are still in place, because we still see the need is there.” For her, being a librarian is about watching kids grow up at the library, where they can develop a life-long love of books and learning. That passion is present inside any branch of AADL, which truly serves as a focal point where members of the vibrant Ann Arbor community can come together and learn — from the resources around them as well as from one another.

At the end of the day, I go to the public library because it’s free, it’s convenient and it’s familiar. It’s what comes to mind when one thinks of the word library. In many ways, I did much of my growing up between the old brick walls and metal shelves, and among the thousands of pages and stories contained in just the downtown branch alone. I don’t intend to stop using this collection, even with all the resources on campus that are made available to me because of my student status. That may be partly because, even for those with no library card, it’s always free to walk down William Stret and step through those doors. Students who are interested can apply for a card for free. With or without that, find a good book or your favorite TV show on Blu-ray, grab an open table or study room and stay as long as you want.

Susan LaMoreaux can be reached at susanpl@umich.edu.

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