Cooperation no substitute for small libraries

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Sat, Aug 07, 2010, 10:18 am  //  John Servais

Finally, all Whatcom County libraries are putting together a cooperative agreement. Starting later this summer, any local library card holder can check out a book from any local library and return it to any other library.

Thus, a person with a Bellingham Library card can check out books at Western Washington University or Whatcom Community College - and return the books to the Bellingham Library. Details are still being worked out, but you may be able to reserve the book online and then pick it up at the most convenient library near where you live or work. Lets hope they set up the agreement that way - as it then makes the process 'green.'  It would be nice if they invited the public to comment or participate in this planning - but apparently that is not to be.  Secrecy and surprise announcement are the local way.  

The project was the idea of new WWU President Bruce Shepard. He pushed to get the various library administrations together and work out a deal that actually benefits the citizens. Of course in this tight economic time, such a move also serves as goodwill for budget requests from various government agencies. And this cooperative process costs very little for the different library systems. Very little.

As is usual with new government projects in our community, the various libraries agreed to keep mum and let the Bellingham Herald have the scoop on the story. Most citizens don't realize how routine that practice is. A mayor or board will notify the Herald of a planned process, sometimes weeks ahead, and the Herald agrees to keep quiet until the plan is complete. This is not reporting - it is being a Public Relations agency for governments.  The Herald aids government secrecy - not transparency.

But I digress. This cooperative library system is a long-desired step forward in library services for local taxpayers. We pay for the Mabel Zoe Wilson Library at Western. We pay for the one at Whatcom Community College, the Whatcom County Library System and the Bellingham Library. Hopefully, Western will designate some convenient parking lot for non-campus users - otherwise it could be a real problem finding parking there.

From the Bellingham Library Administration's view, this is another step in trying to avoid building branch or small libraries in neighborhoods that are far from the main library downtown. Well, it won't cut it. Being able to go to Western or to WCC at Cordata is no help to those in Silver Beach or Yew Street. Birchwood is still across I-5 from WCC. Cordata residents will not find the books they desire to read at WCC. We do not need a new $60 million downtown Taj Mahal library. We need three or four small $8 million libraries situated in neighborhoods like Cordata, Silver Beach, Birchwood and Yew Street/Lakeway. That saves taxes, is much 'greener,' and provides much better service to all residents. Also, libraries double as community meeting rooms and resources. We who live in Fairhaven treasure our library and only hope other outlying parts of the city will also get their own libraries soon.

So, we welcome this new exchange and cooperative service from all our local libraries. We thank Bruce Shepard - who is new to our area - for pushing this on the administrations who have ignored it for decades.

Many of us look forward - when the economy gets better - to working toward funding a citizen approved levy for three or four small libraries costing only half the planned $60 million of a huge and wasteful downtown library.

Steve Wilson  //  Sun, Aug 08, 2010, 9:24 am

Thanks for highlighting this positive development in the local library system.  Cooperation goes a long way.
I will take issue with your wishful thinking about future library development.  The prospects of downtown library expansion and/or branch libraries is delusional thinking.  We still live in a bubble world of grossly overpriced housing and a shrinking job market.  Better to count our simple blessings and practice some patience…and hope we can stay healthy enough to walk, bike or hop on the bus to visit the library wherever it may be.  Please, no more parking lots!..especially at WWU.

David Camp  //  Mon, Aug 09, 2010, 1:26 pm

I grew up in a town that didn;t have a public library, and had to take the bus or ride my bike the 4 miles to the nearest public library, since the local college library was not open to schoolkids. Now, with volunteer effort and very small amounts of money, my home town does have a library, and the local youth and families have access to the tools of lifelong learning.

I agree with the article that more neighborhood libraries are required. WHy on earth this should cost $8 million is beyond me… town did the whole job on a shoestring (less than $100,000), donations of books, and only one paid person and a lot of volunteers. Annual operating costs are also less than $100,000.

We need less self-serving grandiose plans and more sensible community involvement.

And the inter-library cooperation agreement is a very good step.

DOes anyone know whether a public library member has access to WWU’s full collection, including academic journals? This would be most excellent!

John Servais  //  Mon, Aug 09, 2010, 1:52 pm

In truth, I just suggested $8 million per library as a possible max cost.  Indeed, I think it could and should be much less - perhaps $2 or $3 million.  The cost would depend on how much we citizens could keep our city fathers from adding marginal features. 

Regardless, even four new branch or neighborhood libraries would a fraction of the cost our mayor Dan Pike is insisting on planning and spending for a huge central library on the waterfront.  A year ago it was $56 million and we can all safely figure this would quickly swell to over $60 million.  Four branch libraries for a total of $10 million or more are far more feasible.  And far more practical for our city.

Yes, we could make far more use of volunteers at our libraries - and many people are ready to volunteer.  At our Fairhaven library we have tried for many years to convince the library administration to allow volunteers.  The administration says the unions will not allow it.  But that seems not true from what I have heard from union persons.  You have to understand that both sides assure each other they will not discuss negotiation issues with the public or news media.  So any info I get is very off the record. 

There are several very separate issues with libraries.  One whole issue is the question of what the mission or usefulness libraries can be in the Internet age.  I think they still have just as valuable a role as they ever did.  If any library professional wants to submit a guest article on this question, I would post it. 

So, yes, perhaps the addition of new neighborhood libraries is a fantasy.  But not as much as is the idea of a new central library costing several times more.  And the idea is to only move for new construction of neighborhood libraries when we have a better economy and even then only with a citizen approved levy.

David Camp  //  Tue, Aug 10, 2010, 2:19 pm

The Bellingham Library is heavily patronised (according to one user, the highest per capita usage in the State) and provides a safe, clean, public area for people to spend time reading and studying, either online or on paper, without having to spend money. We need more institutions like this, especially in lower-income parts of town - not monuments to powerful egos strategically placed where only rich people live.

Helen Brandt  //  Sun, Aug 15, 2010, 4:46 pm

Neighborhood libraries are preferable to enlarging the central library in Bellingham. It makes sense to shorten the distances people travel when they want to check out or return books and other items.

I wondered, when Wade King Elementary School on Yew St. Rd. was built a few years ago, why there was no provision in it for a neighborhood library. Now there are plans for a new elementary school on the north end of Bellingham. Why not design it with an attached public library space? The school corridor connection could be designed to allow the library to be separated from the rest of the school as needed to provide school security.

A neighborhood library with limited hours/days could initially begin as a pick-up and drop-off point for library books. A children’s area could be added later so local children could come and browse. Kids need activities they can go to on their, without depending on parents transporting them. The small library at Barkley could be a model for other neighborhood libraries.

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