We never intended to be working towards taking back our library. For over six months, since January 7, when KCLS announced their shocking plans for renovating our library over the determined and outspoken objections of over 40 library patrons who attended the informational meeting, we’ve been working, along with many other dedicated citizens, to convince KCLS Board and KCLS Management to only do needed updates.
But on May 28, everything changed. Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz delivered an impassioned plea to the KCLS Board asking for more Mercer Island input into their plans for our Library. Councilmember Debbie Bertlin followed his presentation with a beautifully crafted statement reiterating his request, and Councilmember Benson Wong, followed by statements from Mercer Island citizens, also addressed the Board requesting consideration be given to citizens’ concerns. But the Board and Management denied all of these requests and are moving ahead with plans that do not take into account Mercer Islanders preferences for our library.
Fortunately, however, the interlocal agreement between the City of Mercer Island and KCLS, which ceded our library to KCLS in 1994, provided an escape route by which we could de-annex our library from the KCLS system and, once again, gain control of the library we had built with Mercer Island design and Mercer Island funds on Mercer Island land.
We have taken the first step in this process and have gathered, in two days, over 150 signatures of Mercer Island registered voters on a petition which requires our City Council to place a measure on the November ballot that Mercer Island will establish its own library, a first step for separating from KCLS.
These signatures were delivered to City Hall on Tuesday, July 15. Separating from KCLS, although seeming extreme at first glance, with further deliberation is a win-win solution for Mercer Islanders.
1) We would gain control of our library building, retaining the drive-up book drop, the small meeting room in its current location, the enclosed children’s area, the vestibule at its current size, the warm and welcoming atmosphere, and many other features we value. At the same time we would update the electrical and computer systems that require updating and upgrade the building as necessary, adding two small study rooms and an ADA accessible staff break room.
2) We would prevent closure of our library for up to a year, as proposed by KCLS, since unnecessary major renovations would be avoided.
3) We would have the same access to the nationwide collection of books that we now have through interlibrary loans and other contractual arrangements, so that books not held in our collection would be as available as they are now, or more available than they are now, because interlibrary loans would not need to go through a central system but could go directly from our own library. Also, instead of competing system-wide for popular new fiction and non-fiction, our own librarian can simply purchase multiple copies for us.
4) We would gain control of our own library staff. We would have our own reference, teen, and children’s librarians, who would know our patrons, our reading interests, and our library needs. These librarians would not circulate to other libraries but would, instead, be dedicated to serving our community.
5) We would gain control of our own collection, so that it would meet the needs and wishes of our community. Periodicals, bound books, videos, reference materials, and e-books collections would be bought and curated by our librarians in response to the needs and interests of readers, writers, researchers, students, teachers, parents, senior citizens, and others who live and work on Mercer Island. Our own history would be preserved through issues of the Mercer Island Reporter from the inaugural issue up to the present week, retained and easily accessible to citizens in our library.
6) We would gain control of our open hours so more library service could be provided on weekends, particularly on Sundays for students.
7) Our City Council would contract with another library system, or a professional library management organization, to run our library, hire our librarians, select and purchase our collections, and update and maintain our building, so that our city would not be in the business of running a library itself. This is the approach that then-Mayor Bryan Cairns had recommended in 1993 when the decision to join KCLS was on the ballot.
8) We would save money—a lot of money. This year Mercer Islanders were taxed $4.4 million for KCLS library services (and KCLS spent less than half of this on Mercer Island Library services). Quotes from professional library organizations that were approached for an estimate of the cost of running our library gave us estimates of $1 million to $2 million per year, a savings to Mercer Island taxpayers of $3 million to $4 million per year.
The process is as follows:
1) Mercer Islanders vote in November to establish our own library.
2) Then Mercer Islanders vote to de-annex from KCLS, following the process for de-annexation laid out in the interlocal agreement between Mercer Island and KCLS.
3) Mercer Islanders buy back our library building (the land is still owned by MI) from KCLS at a cost to be determined by appraisers, as stipulated in the interlocal agreement. (While land appreciates over time, buildings depreciate over time.)
4) Our City Council contracts with another library system, or with a professional library management organization, to manage our library—to hire our own library staff, build our own collections, and run our own library.
As we work towards de-annexation, our City Council has continued to work to influence KCLS with regard to our proposed library renovation and proposed closure. As of the most recent City Council meeting on Monday, July 7, the City Library Committee has been reconstituted as the Library Board and will still seek to influence KCLS with regard to renovation plans and closure. But unless KCLS changes drastically with the incoming new director and radically reverses their current plans for MI Library renovations and upcoming prolonged closure, owning our library will still be our best option for excellence of library services and access to a wide range of library materials, and for lowered cost to Mercer Island taxpayers.
More information is available from any of us and at www.libraryremodel.org. Please email us at email@example.com to join with us or to ask us questions. We look forward to your feedback and to your votes.
Sara Sue Zwingle