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Fairhaven Library to be Closed

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Bellingham Library Board of Trustees agreed today to close the Fairhaven Library. They are delaying their formal vote until next Tuesday - but made it plain at today's special meeting that closing the Fairhaven Library will be approved.

This is in response to a directive from the mayor that the library reduce its budget by 5%, which is $372,441. The board will make its recommendation and the mayor will then decide, or bring his recommendation to the City Council. The process in unclear.

The board decided it had to use a "philosophy" approach on what to cut from the budget and decided that core downtown main library services were more important than branch libraries. They are also considering closing the Barkley branch - which is really only a pickup location - but may not as the Talbot Company pays for the operation of that branch.

Most disappointing were comments from Michael Lilliquist, the City Council rep to the Library Board. (Note: Michael denies saying this. See my comment below this article.) While he does not vote, he voiced his opinion that he "does not oppose closing the Fairhaven Library" but wants the community meeting rooms kept open. He said many on the south side are very used to having those rooms available. His remarks came after over an hour of discussion. He later decided to modify his opinion by saying something to the effect that it was too bad the library had to be closed.

As can be seen in the photo of today's board meeting, they sit in a circle and some have their backs to the public. There is no sound system and some board members speak so quietly that only those at the table can hear them. Members of the audience requested that they speak up - but it had no effect. One board member looked up at all of us sitting there like he was surprised we were even in the room.

Other recommended cuts will be mostly paper cuts with no further impact on the library. Pseudo cuts. They will eliminate a vacant position. And save on other vacancies by delaying filling them.

In 1992 the Library Administration tried to close the Fairhaven Library, arguing it was needed for cost savings in a tight economy. With research, I was able to show the library was far more efficient than the main library - and also that the entire Bellingham system was far more costly to taxpayers than any other library system in the state. I asked the Director at that time to please inform me of any errors in my calculations - before I gave them to the news media. Two days later she decided to keep Fairhaven Library open.

Since that time, the mayor or library administration has attempted to close the Fairhaven Library seven more times - today's decision being the 8th. Over the past few years, the Library Director and Assistant Director, Board members and the mayor have tried to convince us we could ease off in our watchfulness because they absolutely were committed to keeping the Fairhaven Library open. Well ….

This is the beginning. There is much more that interested citizens should know about our library system and what options we have now and in the next few years. I am on this. Our children and our communities all deserve much better. A few of us saw this coming months ago and have been planning for what to do. And there are better things to cut if cuts must be made. More soon.

What can a person do? Right now, we want to keep the Fairhaven Library open. The kids are just getting out of school. This library serves six south side neighborhoods. You can send an email to the City Council? Each member will recieve your email if sent to: ccmail@cob.org You can email the mayor at: mayorsoffice@cob.org You can comment here as all politicians in the city and county read this website.

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About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Michael Lilliquist

Jun 08, 2010

John,

I’m not surprised but I am sorry you mis-heard my comments.  I would not like to see the Fairhaven branch library closed, and I told the public and Library Board members so.  Just ask them.

If you did not hear me speak very much, it is because I am a not voting liaison and held back and mostly listened, mindful of my role.  Rather than saying it is “too bad the library has to be closed,” I actually suggested for cutting the material budget instead.  After the close of the meeting, I also pointed out to the Board members that they could keep the two branches open,  by accepting most of the other suggested cuts.

Also, I think your title is misleading.  The Fairhaven library is far from closed, as your headline says.  “Once again threatened with closure” would be accurate.  I am actually hopeful that, despite the need for $374,000 in library cuts, we can still keep the library open.  The Board has already expressed support for around $232,000 in cuts that leave the Fairhaven branch open, so we just need to find an additional $140,000 or so.  And this can be done with some painful technology services cuts, suspending the outreach program, and further reductions to the materials budget.

I suggest people come to next Tuesday afternoon’s Library Board meeting.  Your involvement will help.  Trustee Edelstein I think is in most need of persuasion on this issue. There is also a very small chance that not all the $374,000 in cuts will be necessary, but if I had to lay odds I’d say things are bad and will staying that way.

Michael Lilliquist

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John Servais

Jun 09, 2010

If Michael denies saying he did “not oppose closing the library” then I will believe him and have added a correction to the text above.  After the meeting I asked another attendee and that person also heard him say he did not oppose the closing.  They did.  But hearing what Michael and the board members were saying was very hard for those of us in the audience.  The Library should be taping these meetings and, if so, then the tape can settle the question.

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