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Modernize, don’t standardize our library
Library patrons should know that a struggle is currently taking place over the future of library services on Mercer Island. The King County Library System (KCLS) has proposed structural changes to standardize and homogenize our library to the rest of their system. Some of their standardizations include moving the meeting room into the center of the library as a glass “fishbowl,” eliminating a separate entrance lobby, eliminating the community display case, and eliminating the drive-up book drop.
The Mercer Island Library was designed and built by Islanders in 1990. Our community voted in 1993 to have the library annexed to the KCLS system to increase the library resources available to us. But this annexation was based on promises from the KCLS that we would be able to maintain some amount of control over the library we had just built. Sadly, it does not appear that KCLS is honoring these promises. And KCLS’s disingenuousness to Mercer Island is not limited to making our unique community treasure identical to every other library in the county system. It is also financial.
In 2004, Islanders approved a $3.4 million bond to provide money for (a) essential maintenance, (b) access to more books and materials, and (c) an automated handling system to speed delivery and reduce theft. Under KCLS’ current plans, we are getting neither (b) nor (c). KCLS is proposing significant structural changes to the library that we Islanders didn’t ask for or vote for. Beyond disregarding the original provisions of the bond, KCLS proposes spending two to three times the amount originally budgeted for the remodeling.
Mercer Island has the say that we do in the remodeling plans only because a group of concerned citizens opposed to the KCLS plan asked our Council to appoint a Library Committee to represent Mercer Island.
I was asked to serve on the Library Committee to represent young children and their parents. We on the Library Committee have made some progress working with KCLS to mitigate some of the most objectionable features of the county’s plan. But KCLS has still failed to fully justify that its proposals for remodeling meet our community’s needs. In a straw poll in March of this year, members of the Library Committee voted 9-3 against the KCLS plans. We want to modernize, not standardize our library.
Viable alternatives to the plans put forward by KCLS do exist. One such model, an alternate remodel plan that meets KCLS’s stated policies, was drawn up by Islander Bart Dawson. Mr. Dawson’s remodel plan modernizes our library while maintaining the existing structures Islanders find so useful and so beautifully unique. Unfortunately, KCLS rejected Mr. Dawson’s plans with no satisfactory explanation.
The Mercer Island Library is a treasured part of our community in large part due to our community’s deep involvement in building and running it. Democratic oversight by us Islanders is more important than ever during the remodeling process. Islanders who care about the Mercer Island Library should contact the City Council and insist that no changes be made to the Library until proposed changes are publicly presented to Islanders for comment and then approved by the full City Council.
Our library’s relationship with the wider county library system has provided numerous benefits to our community in terms of resources and interlibrary loans. But it is important to remember that it is our library and its future must belong to us. While there is no need for our relationship with KCLS to be confrontational, under the 1993 library annexation agreement, we still own the land and have the right to withdraw from KCLS and repossess our library at our sole discretion.
No two communities in King County are the same. Neither should their libraries be the same, either.
Mercer Island Preschool Association representative
City Library Committee