Going Platinum: Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library Reflects on 70 Years of Supporting AADL Patrons and Programs
In May 1953, the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library (FAADL) shared a historical moment alongside Ernest Hemingway.
The library’s volunteer organization officially became a nonprofit the same month Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for The Old Man and the Sea.
Seven decades later, Hemingway’s novella still graces the library’s shelves as FAADL celebrates its 70th anniversary of supporting Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) patrons and programs through used book sales. From library locations to summer bookmobiles to online bookstores, the group has played a pivotal role in AADL’s evolution.
“[FAADL] was really instrumental in the location of where the downtown library sits, and it was instrumental in the branches,” said Rachel Pastiva, FAADL’s director, while reflecting on the group’s platinum anniversary.
That same year, FAADL advocated for a separate and central location for the library since it was attached to an old high school at State and Huron streets. By 1957, the new location ended up being the current downtown site at Fifth Avenue and William Street.
The group also started fundraising efforts in 1954 to support the library with a yard sale at the current downtown site. The sale raised $348 with patrons purchasing books, records, picture frames, baked goods, and flowers.
Those funds went toward renting the library’s first bookmobile from the Monroe County Library for a pilot summer program. The goal was to reach readers living at a distance from the library which later led to the creation and furnishing of library branches.
“It raised money for the first bookmobile because it turns out [FAADL] couldn’t afford to buy [one], but the money it raised could rent one from a different library system,” said Pastiva about the service that ran until 2006. “It was such a big deal that the library was like, ‘Oh, let’s try to find the money to get a permanent bookmobile.’”
In the 1960s, FAADL added a book cart to serve long-term patients at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, now known as Trinity Health Ann Arbor Hospital. The popular service was quickly expanded to other hospital floors for patients to enjoy.
“There’s just the spirit there … same thing with the bookmobile … the spirit of giving people access to books,” Pastiva said.
Also in the 1960s, library staff and FAADL convinced the local school district to put a millage on the ballot to support library funding. Since then, the group has been involved in the planning and advocacy of millages for subsequent additions to the library and operating revenues.
FAADL fundraising efforts continued with the opening of a used bookshop in 1980 in a library conference room. Book sales took place on a few Saturdays in the spring and fall and expanded to every weekend from October to April by 1984.
“When the Friends did these fundraising efforts, they would do a sale every year sometimes on the front walkway … and then by 1980 they started to do a bookshop,” Pastiva said.
“Eventually over time it became a little bit more permanent, it was open on weekends, and it slowly became what it is now … which is open [almost] every day. The bookshop becoming more of a permanent thing was kind of a milestone.”
The bookshop was later relocated to the Downtown Library basement and now resides in its current first-floor location along with specially designated FAADL sales shelves at each of the four branches.
FAADL keeps things running smoothly with a team of 45-50 volunteers, a 10-member board of directors, AADL director Eli Neiburger, and Pastiva. Volunteers staff the bookshop, sort and review donations, and price used books and other items.
“We have subject specialists or people who are actually in charge of each of the subjects in the shop,” said Pastiva, a former FAADL volunteer and fiction subject specialist who became the group’s director in November 2018.
“One volunteer is in charge of history, business, economics, and philosophy, so he’s the person who decides what goes upstairs into the shop. He also cleans and prices [items] and takes them down when they don’t sell.”
Over the years, the group has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the library in support of children’s programs, including the Summer Game, Ann Arbor Public Schools second-grade visits, and the library’s youth and teen writing contests.
By 2020, the pandemic drastically reduced the ability of FAADL to raise funds for the library and for patrons to purchase books, movies, board games, and other media from the bookshop. In response, Pastiva launched an online bookshop on the group’s website as a new means of support.
“[Public access to] the library was closed from early 2020 to the summer of 2021, so it really became our primary source of business. Since I had started as director, I had really wanted to do something online,” said Pastiva, who’s previously managed independent bookstores and also founded the Ann Arbor Book Society.
“When the pandemic hit, I was fortunate enough that the library let me come in when it reopened for staff in June of 2020. Even then, we weren’t accepting donations … but we knew that Literati from time to time when they would get damaged books would donate them to the Friends. ”
Pastiva established a partnership with Literati and other local independent bookstores to accept donations of newer, slightly damaged books to sell on FAADL’s online bookshop. The group also added high-quality books online, including rare or signed copies that sell for more than $10.
“Now, we’re at this point with Literati that once every six weeks or two months they give me a call and say, ‘We have 10 more boxes for you,’” Pastiva said.
“And so, it’s been great because we have this steady stream of books that were published—sometimes this month. I’ve been excited about it because it elevates the Friends to a new level of being able to have high-quality books online for sale.”
In addition to the online bookshop, FAADL is increasing its financial support of the library—closer to pre-pandemic levels—through several means, including:
• Donating $25,000 to AADL to help fund the 2023 Summer Game and other library efforts.
• Launching a new membership campaign with all-new incentives, tiers, and ways for people to give back to AADL and the community through FAADL.
• Partnering with the Michigan Medicine Department of Pediatrics and its Reach Out and Read program to donate 600 books to outpatient pediatric clinics to help foster a love of reading in children and families.
Looking ahead, FAADL is identifying ways to celebrate its 70th anniversary and planning a special art book sale in the fall.
“We see sometime in the fall having some sales, kinda like bag sales,” Pastiva said. “We are [also] planning during the Tiny Expo a small sale of some high-quality books for that.”
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.