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Aidan Sova, candidate for Master of Liberal Arts at Penn and elected member of the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees.

A Master of Liberal Arts candidate at Penn recently became the youngest Black person ever to hold office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

While taking his MLA classes virtually and working full-time at Google, 23-year-old Aidan Sova competed against six other candidates for three open spots on the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees.

On Nov. 8, he secured his position on the board, continuing his self-described “lifelong” passion for working on behalf of his community.

The Ann Arbor District Library is a system that serves the city of Ann Arbor and its over 100,000 residents. It is responsible for the basic services of a library, such as providing books and public resources, and it also hosts programming and workshops to engage the community and promote equity.

In recent years, the library has made changes such as removing the associated costs of having a late fee, creating drop boxes for books to promote contactless engagement, and providing virtual programming throughout the pandemic. 

As a member of the Board of Trustees for the next four years beginning Jan. 1, Sova will have influence over the library’s budget and the overall direction of the system.

In his campaign, Sova ran a coordinated campaign with two other running mates, newcomer Catherine Hadley and incumbent president Jim Leija. 

They announced their campaign early on in the year “in the hopes of really taking that time to listen to the community and consider their wants and needs of the library system,” Sova said.

All three of them were elected onto the board this November, Sova receiving a total of 26,896 votes. The other three candidates who ran were Sherrie Kossoudji, John Schaeffer, and Sara Duvall.

“There are going to be many people in those rooms that are more seasoned than I am, but I am confident that I do also bring my fair share of experience and seasonality. I’m hopeful that my perspective can be leveraged in a way to help the Ann Arbor community,” Sova said.

As a board member, Sova aims to ensure access to library resources for those who are economically disadvantaged and make the Ann Arbor District Library a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members of the community. 

He also hopes to prevent recent efforts to remove sections in the library related to the history of underrepresented groups.

Sova cited both his background and his leadership experiences in college as having inspired him to run for the Board of Trustees position. Having grown up in a low-income, single-parent household, he found it difficult over the summer to be away from the public school systems that provided him with internet access, food security, and general programming. 

“We also did not have regular transportation, but our local library was just a short walk away. Here we were able to enjoy tangible things, such as occasional food and air conditioning,” Sova said. 

“It also bred an earnest and sincere love for programming and scholarly academic works because we were there for hours on end a day,” he added.

His early experiences with the library gave him an appreciation for its services, he said, and he hopes to help members of marginalized communities in his new position. 

“I think that having had that dependency on the library will be crucial when we make future policy and leadership decisions at the library,” Sova said.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, Sova became the executive director of the Association of Big Ten Students. The mission of the ABTS is “to increase information sharing and networking” among students in the Big Ten Conference.

During the pandemic, he joined the COVID-19 task force on racial disparities for the state of Michigan and later became Ann Arbor’s Human Rights Commissioner.

“My experiences in student government, in particular the Big Ten, did help to inform my decision [to run]. I’m very comfortable working on behalf of a large constituency base, particularly when times are difficult,” Sova said.

At Penn, Sova is concentrating in strategic communication in complex organizations for his MLA, taking his classes virtually while living in Michigan. Sova found that he was able to explore the full scope of his interdisciplinary interests at Penn, including his interest in politics. 

Although there were some things that were new to him as a first-time candidate — such as campaign finance, media opportunities, and expected attendance at programming events — Sova was proud of the campaign that he ran, finding it to be a good learning opportunity.

“I learned that there is so much of my story that I want to share, and I want to give to my community in a way to empower future generations to also become involved in their communities,” Sova said.

“It can be deeply vulnerable and scary to share about my own experiences with food insecurity and all that comes with being a low-income person, but I think that I have a personal and innate responsibility to share considering the many mentors and kind community mentors that invested so much of their time in me,” he added.