New Library ideas

Tired of looking at a photo of geese when you check here? So am I. We have nine writers for this site but it has been rather slack lately. So - here is a new post. Written on the fly and with little depth. Hope it draws more serious comments.

Sam Taylor wrote a decent article on yesterday’s Bellingham Library Board of Trustees special meeting. I was there. Mayor Dan Pike presented his ideas on what to do about a new library while saying he was open to other ideas. Below is a link to Sam’s article and so far there are 19 comments. Reading those comments just now led me to post this. The comments are awful. They are mostly anon except for Richard Maneval and Tip Johnson. All others are way too chicken to stand behind their comments - and for good reason. The comments are mostly personal insults. And insults of the previous insulters. Ad nauseum. We see this all the time at the Herald.

While there are over 50 people registered to comment here, some articles - like Wendy’s second post on the geese - get zero comments. Lack of interest? Concern about social repercussions if they speak wrongly? Nothing to say? I don’t know. The killing geese issue is very touchy. For those on either side.

But a new public library - now you cannot get in trouble with your co-workers, neighbors or social peers with your thoughts on a library. I would like Pike’s idea of building a new library at the foot of Bay Street - at Chestnut - IF I thought we needed a new library. I think we need new real branch libraries and a warehouse for all the old books they want to keep but that no one requests anymore. With new branches then a lot of pressure would come off the central library and it would again be sufficient for our needs - and with additional branches in the future the present central library would continue to be sufficient.

I also thnk the library should take on the task of providing public records in response to Public Disclosure Requests. Storing, cataloguing and retrieving information is what librarians love to do. Bureaucrats are loath to spend their time doing this as they prefer to work on their assigned tasks. I do believe the historic mission of public libraries should be reviewed and updated. And we do get to the question of cost benefit. Branch libraries serve school kids much better than central libraries. Branches also cut down on driving, parking problems downtown, and many other things. A real branch library is an asset to the 4 or 5 neighborhoods around it.

Anyone else care to weigh in?

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • 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

Mary Mele

Jun 25, 2008

I’m in complete agreement with you. (sigh.)


g.h. kirsch

Jun 25, 2008

I have been at a loss to resolve the question: new central library versus several new branch libraries.

I appreciate the mayor’s attempt to kill several birds with one stone. (Sorry Wendy, just couldn’t pass it up) 

Linking the present downtown to the coming development of the waterfront with a public building, a parking facility that benefits old and new, some office and/or retail space that can help carry the freight and be available for library expansion if needed in the future, is a stroke for sure.

I’m just glad Dan didn’t throw in a Wal-Mart or a casino!

But jest aside, it remains a real conundrum for the library board.  Oh, the plague of good ideas.


Jeffrey Schmidt

Jun 26, 2008

our family lives in deming, and we love our local library.  The kids go online at home to order the books they want to read, and presto…the books end up in deming usually within two days, barring a hold on the books.  I have no reason to ever go to the bellingham library, save for special functions.  Does everyone know you can reserve books online? It boggles me that the city of bellingham can only tackle million dollar projects when easier and cheaper projects sometimes do work.


Tip Johnson

Jun 26, 2008

Mercury is known to flux to many times normal levels within five kilometers of decommissioned chlor-alkali facilities.  I would like to see the results of an aggressive mercury vapor monitoring campaign before siting a library on the waterfront.  It would be irresponsible to send kids down there without looking first.


John Palmer

Jun 26, 2008

In the 1970’s I worked with the Gray’s Harbor Library system.  At that time you could request ANY book from them and they would get it and mail it to you with a return mailer.  I recieved books checked out from the Library of Congress using this method.  With the Internet and OnLine Catalogs, I don’t want a new library building but new inovative services.  The question of main library vs. branches should not be about books but the best way to house the librarians that supply the services.


Hue Beattie

Jun 26, 2008

I like Mayor Pike’s idea better than the entropic tear it down and build a bigger one that the board had been pushing.
But in the interim ,build an addition out to the side walk to the east of the meeting room and up one floor .The crowding would be eased for a small expense with minimal disruptions. 

If the Bay st. site doesn’t pencil out,
this could also be repeated on the west side.
If the additions went up three floors, they could be fashioned to look like bookends with the original library between the additions. and the roof between for a coffee shop.


John Watts

Jun 29, 2008

Aside from the new site being proposed by the Mayor, there are no ‘new’ ideas cited, only recycled older ones.

The Central versus Branch ‘argument’ is a phony one. Of course, Branches make the most sense, but the Central Branch is the hub that makes the others work!

People have been used to having their Central Branch located downtown, near Civic Center, the cultural district and businesses, where transit, facilities and public amenities already exist. To change that history and practicality will require convincing many citizens that a better idea is possible, and affordable.

The Library Board has considered literally dozens of sites for a more modern Central Branch, and they have listened to countless citizens to assess their needs and ideas.
In fact, to assume otherwise would be an egregious and inaccurate disservice to this group of dedicated civic volunteers!

In considering the best available site for a new Central Branch, the Library Board used a rigorous evaluation methodology that considered multiple factors, including among several others, site convenience and cost to purchase the site.

Of course, the current BPL location scored well on these two criteria. The main complication in using the same block as the site for a new Central Branch is that the old building still occupies a portion of it.

During the last 7-plus years of its careful evaluation process, the site now being advocated by the Mayor was not considered as a viable one - so certainly not the best location - nor was it even considered available - whether at a reasonable cost or not.

Now, that site MIGHT be a solution, particularly if adequate additional parking can be included without unduly burdening a Library bond issue, AND if the lack of adjacent green space and additional noise can be mitigated at reasonable cost.

While the answers to these things are yet to be determined, locating a new Central Branch Library near the gateway to our to-be redeveloped Waterfront could be a plus, particularly if Western Washington University decided to meaningfully participate.
But, don’t hold your breath for a timely and favorable WWU decision, because that might compete in abject slowness with any decision that Burlington Northern Railroad might make!

Meanwhile, those who are hung up on what to do with the old -existing- Library also have their work cut out for them too.
What to do with that facility, and at what cost are main questions?

For starters, the old Library can continue to serve in its present capacity until a new Central Branch is built and ready. That could save on staff time, disruption of services, and the time & energy associated with finding another temporary site during construction.

But one thing ought to be clear by now; any new Library facilities with new spaces, services or functions will require new staff!
That is a given that must be accepted and provided for in the future.

With that in mind, does it make sense to have Library staff man, not one, but two buildings?
A building with more than one public entrance?
A building with more than two stories?
Think about it; making best use of Library staff, particularly in a critical Central Branch -or HUB- means minimizing staff positions that are not absolutely germane to the services a Library provides.

To what other uses might the existing Library building be put?
Not un-accessible book storage, I hope!
Maybe more public meeting rooms?
If so, who will staff those spaces?
On what budget?

The Information Technology Dept has been mentioned as a possible tenant, but their occupancy would certainly require major upgrades of a major existing deficiency - an adequate modern communications network!

The Parks & Recreation Dept has been scattered in different locations for many years, and might also be a good candidate to occupy the existing Library Building.
If that were to happen, Parks might be able to also staff the public meeting rooms.

Public Works might use this space to house all -or part- of its Engineering & Environmental Resources staff, freeing up part of City Hall for other uses.

The Planning Dept’s Community Development staff has in the past rented space in the Crown Plaza Building, and used part of the Federal Building at Cornwall & Magnolia. These people might also be moved to across the street from City Hall.

The Hearing Examiner certainly needs a better place than the small windowless closet off the Lobby in City Hall!

Then, there’s that always problematic, part-time group the City Council, with its cramped quarters very inconveniently located right next to the Mayor’s space.
Won’t the Council need more space for the new staff they want to create?

Maybe there are other City staff that could use the existing Library building, too.
But, the bottom line is any major re-use of this facility will require some major upgrades - likely from several different budgets that are not now being considered.

So, rather than seeing the unsurprising need for a new Central Branch Library as only the Bellingham Public Library’s problem, the City and its citizens ought to see this as an opportunity; as one essential piece of a much bigger puzzle.

The larger question is one of adequate & timely municipal space planning which is necessary to provide the effective and efficient services that citizens of this city both need and want.

I still prefer the ideas that evolved as the result of years of Library Board study, augmented by the needs assessment and conceptual plans for a new Central Branch facility across from City Hall.
If that plan -or one similar- is considered too expensive for one bond measure, then perhaps it can be considered as a really good Master Plan to be implemented in phases over time.

After all, that’s what we did with Civic Field Stadium;
that’s what we are doing with the Public Facilities District [Mt Baker Theater, Museum & Children’s Museum;
that’s what we do with Greenways & Parks Development;
and, that’s what we plan to do with the Waterfront Redevelopment.

Enough examples?
There comes a time when more talk amounts to just that - more talk!


David Onkels

Jun 29, 2008

John Watts,
You are an enormous intellect, but:

Has it ever occurred to you to condense your argument to a cohesive, compact, whole?

I’m worn down by your post.

I apoloogize.


Ham Hayes

Jun 29, 2008

Technological change appears to be moving far faster than government institutions can respond or brick an mortar be built.  Many of our kids are computer literate before they attend school and that trend will likely continue.  And don’t we want NOT to invest in energy consuming transport and storage.  And there is a significant trend that’s been going on for years to put more content on-line (much of the Library of Congress is now on-line as an example).

This is probably great heresy to many (please forgive me), but as we look to future generations, perhaps we should embrace the virtual/on-line library wholeheartedly.  We can redirect our investment towards proliferating access points for users instead.


Doug Karlberg

Aug 04, 2008


If I may point out the obvious, this is printed not on paper, but electronically.

Look at how important the Internet has become not only for information, but interaction with each other.

It is not heresy, to speak the truth.


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