Ypsilanti

Ypsi District Library preps new branch, expanded programs for women and girls, strategic plan update

The library system has a new branch on the way in Superior Township, but that's just the most visible recent example of YDL's efforts to better serve its community's changing needs.
The Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) has a new branch on the way in Superior Township, but that's just the most visible recent example of YDL's efforts to better serve its community's changing needs.

The library's near-future plans also include strengthening programs that support women and girls, and soliciting community feedback about YDL's strategic plan. Here's a look at what's next for the organization.

"Libraries are connectors"

YDL Capital Campaign Coordinator Chris McMullen joined the staff at a tough time, January of 2020. The YDL needed to raise $2 million for a new branch to replace the much smaller temporary space it used in Superior Township since 2007, but the library had raised "very little money" at that time, she says.

Between the economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic, McMullen says she knew her role was going to be a challenge. She says she knew YDL had to construct a consistent and compelling message about the role of libraries.

"All libraries do similar things, and most libraries are connectors," McMullen says. "The biggest challenge was to send the message that libraries are no longer just about books. They're about social services, about connecting and uplifting lives."
The Ypsilanti District Library's new branch in Superior Township under construction.
Her second big talking point with potential funders focused on framing the new Superior branch as a county-wide need, a message she says worked well. The new library will be located at 1900 N. Harris Rd. in southern Superior Township.

"The county health department already in 2017 noted that this area of the county needed much more engagement," she says. "So for me, it was about presenting it as a county-wide need. When we talk about serving the county, that means everyone, not just certain areas of the county."

YDL Community Relations Coordinator Sam Killian says YDL is on track to host the new branch's grand opening Nov. 14 with a "soft opening" a few weeks before that. Community members can participate in a "book brigade" in October, moving books from the old building to the new one.

Supporting women and girls

A recent $50,000 grant from the James A. and Faith Knight Foundation also helped bring YDL closer to its goals, both for opening the Superior branch and supporting women and girls across all its branches.

The foundation's aim is to support socioeconomic advancement and address inequality for women and girls, and YDL Director Lisa Hoenig says that mission is "so closely aligned to ours."

"The library can serve as an educational site, a job center, a meeting place, and a safe space for children and families," says Hoenig. 

In addition to the Knight grant, YDL also picked up a Children's Foundation grant for $23,000 in late 2021. Between the two grants, YDL was able to add a kitchenette to the new Superior branch building. That allows the library to better serve as a community center through programs like "Lunch, Listen, and Learn," which provides free meals for people 18 and younger, along with storytimes and hands-on youth activities. A support group for single mothers that used to meet before the COVID-19 pandemic will begin to meet again at the new branch as well.
The Ypsilanti District Library's new branch in Superior Township under construction.
McMullen says that even the older, much smaller building that used to house the Superior branch "used to be jam-packed with kids after school."

"The library is a safe place to go, and the new one is going to be so much nicer. They don't just need it but deserve it," she says. 

McMullen says Washtenaw County has targeted the MacArthur Boulevard neighborhood surrounding the Superior branch for "extra support and care."

"There are so many inequities and disparities in that particular neighborhood," she says. "That area has the highest-density, lowest-income block in all of Washtenaw County."

The area also has a high number of single-parent homes, mostly headed by single mothers, and lots of children, with the average age of males in that area being 9 years old. McMullen notes that many parents aren't able to be there for their kids when they get out of school, and the children end up going to the library instead.

"Those women out there are really in need of support," she says. 

A plan for YDL's future

While planning for the new branch to open, YDL staff are also seeking community input on YDL's three-year strategic plan.

Killian says the library updates its strategic plan periodically, and now seemed like a good time to do it again, as patron needs and preferences changed during the pandemic. He says community input on a previous strategic plan "shaped a lot of things we did … and helped us get the millage approved for the Superior branch."

"It also informed our decision to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group, make revisions to our summer reading challenge, and do a little work on the bookmobile," Killian says. "We're a public service institution and we gear what we're doing to what we hear from the community about what they want us to do."

YDL has responded to patron needs in part by greatly expanding its collection of digital resources in response to the pandemic. Visits to the YDL website were up by more than 340,000 in 2021 from 2020. Use of e-products in 2021 was up by more than 36,000 items over 2020, and Killian says 2020 numbers were already up significantly from 2019. The library added almost 12,000 digital items in 2021, up from 7,180 in 2020.
The Ypsilanti District Library's new branch in Superior Township under construction.
"Tons more people are using our digital services and getting e-books," Killian says.

YDL partnered with an organization called Rethinking Libraries to offer a community survey asking for input on the strategic plan. The survey received more than 30 responses in the first 12 hours it was available, and Killian says YDL welcomes more feedback. 

The survey asks about patrons' current uses of materials and programs along with questions about services or items they'd like YDL to add, opinions about the new Superior branch, and more.

YDL is accepting responses to the survey here through Aug. 26. 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.