A behind-the-scenes look at programming at Ann Arbor District Library

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

Erin Helmrich (left) leads an event for the Ann Arbor District Library. (Courtesy: Erin Helmrich)

ANN ARBOR - Just about every day of the year is a busy one for the Ann Arbor District Library. 

Known for its free programs, AADL has become a hub for cultural, educational and just plain fun experiences for the local community. Thanks to a passionate team of programmers, the library regularly holds events like Bob Ross Paint-Alongs, Japan Week and storytimes designed for residents of all ages.

We recently sat down with Erin Helmrich, a production librarian and avid programmer at AADL who explained how it works.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What do you do at the library?

"I'm a production librarian, which is actually pretty apt. It covers producing content for the website, producing events, producing experiences. So it’s a little bit of everything, and ... one of the things I love about my job the most is I still actually order material for youth. I buy a lot of the graphic novels for kids, but then I do a ton of programming for the library. I booked about 37 programs for the library this summer so it keeps me very busy."

Who runs programming at the library?

"The staff actually does the bulk of it. You can kind of pick and choose how much you focus on one particular area. My particular area of interest is pop culture, so that’s what I try to focus on in my programming -- I try to pick up on trends. Over the years, I’ve brought several 'Top Chef' winners through and back when MTV’s reality TV stuff was a little bit hotter I brought a few folks from 'Road Rules.' I’m also the one who came up with the idea for the Gardening and DIY Fest."

‚úČ  Like what you're reading? Sign up for our email newsletter here!

"Japan Week is one of my favorites because I’m really into Japanese culture. The library does a full week of programming in cooperation with the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan. I’m hosting a moss tray workshop, which is kind of an extension of bonsai and kokedama. I love that a lot of the things I get to do are indulging my own interests at the same time knowing they’re things the community will enjoy, too."

Erin Helmrich smells a wild plant on an AADL Scent Hike led by fragrance expert Michelle Krell Kydd and parks naturalist Shawn Severance at County Farm Park on June 1, 2019. (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)


How many events does the library hold in a year?

"It’s got to be well over 2,000. Because we have days where there could be upward of 10 events. Because maybe there’s two or three storytimes. Pretty much every day of the week, sometimes twice, we have English as second language conversation groups. We could also have craft events for kids or we could have lectures."

Where does the library get its funding for all of this?

"All library operations are through the tax millage. The Friends of the Library, who are the ones who have the used bookshop, pay for the prizes for Summer Game. We are very fortunate to be a well-funded library because we’re in a community with a strong tax base and we’re also a district library so that means our pool is a little bigger because it’s drawn by the district. And our millage is also in perpetuity so that’s very fortunate. We don’t have to worry about voting on it every so often."

Your programming is so innovative. How does it work? Do people come to you? Do you seek people out?

"It’s an interesting combination. Over time, I have people that have come to me and they have become my friends. It’s usually something dynamic. So with Keegan Rodgers and Michelle Krell Kydd, you meet them once and you can tell that they’re just magnetic people. I also am not afraid to try anything.
"Because the library doesn’t do registration, you have to be prepared for anything. And I love that. Most libraries do registration and there’s an element of wanting to control everything and have it not be out of control. I wouldn’t say our events are out of control at all, but you have to be OK with having a big crowd and managing that. I love rolling with it. I love big crowds. Everyone leaves really happy after an event. It’s so fun to be able to bring in such a variety of things for the community."

How many programmers are there?

"There’s a lot of us. We do allow anybody to program. Part-timers assist with programs. In some cases, they’re more likely (to) just help with an event, help with supplies. With the full-time folks, everyone has different beats. So the librarians do lots of storytimes and the Pre-School Expo. We also have some new hires who are doing a lot of great stuff with the music tools. It’s a little bit of everything and it’s nice that people can go with what they’re interested in and see what comes with that."

All About Ann Arbor is powered by ClickOnDetroit/WDIV