Monday, January 28, 2008

A New Bellingham Public Library: A Real Need

John Servais' most recent attack on the plan for REPLACING and EXPANDING the Bellingham Public Library simply repeats again the singular and uninformed positions that both he and the Whatcom WIndy have espoused for a long time. Neither critic has bothered to open their ears to the deliberate, candid and accurate arguments the Library Board has proffered after at least 7 years of considering the various options available. Both Servais' and the WIndy's position seem remarkably rigid, opinionated and wrong, which -taken together-motivate this response.

Reprinted below is John Servais' recent missive, pompously entitled 'Library planning versus needs', from his website 'NW Citizen' dated Mon, Jan 28, 2008. I have inserted my comments in BRACKETS [] below:

"Tomorrow the Bellingham Library Board of Trustees meets and will probably produce a plan for a new grand downtown library building and a bond issue of between 20 to 60 million dollars to pay for it. It will be sent to the city council and mayor for placement on the May ballot - and they will start a "grassroots" campaign to pass the issue with former mayor Tim Douglas leading the "grassroots" effort. The project will contain teaser branch library tidbits as a hook to get voters to approve it. It is all pretty bogus.

[Does Mr Servais have a problem with a duly appointed and confirmed LIBRARY BOARD submitting their duly considered recommendations to the Mayor & Council? If so, what alternate method does Mr Servais advocate? Does he doubt that a strong CENTRAL BRANCH is absolutely essential to any DISTRIBUTED branch system?]

Briefly, here is an analysis and alternative direction for our city.

The Library has not seriously considered any options to the one big building.
[Huh? Are you paying ANY attention AT ALL?]
As such, their statements that branch libraries are more expensive and that our city is not big enough are merely that - statements of opinion without any study behind them. They cite some facts of other cities but have not actually researched our Bellingham situation. They have reacted to neighborhood requests for branches by tossing crumbs in the form of pickup points.
[What research have you done, Mr Servais, that suggests otherwise? Branch Libraries are inherently more expensive!]

An underground parking garage for city and county employees is the real reason behind a new big library downtown.
[This surmise is absolutely false! There are BMC requirements which do specify parking requirements]
There are laws that prevent the city from just building this - and they know the voters would never approve a 30 million dollar bond issue for a parking garage. So they have wrapped it in a library.
[Just exactly what are these laws? How do you imagine any additional parking will be financed?]

Traffic and parking will be worsened with a big central library.
[We already have a 'BIG CENTRAL LIBRARY! We need a somewhat larger one which can also provide the support required for more branches. We also need to be realistic in providing additional parking when we have the opportunity. Additional parking can be provided by Councilmanic Bond, separate from any Bond Issue.]
With branches, people can get full services and school kids can safely go to their branch libraries. In 1992, several of us in the Fairhaven area formed the Friends of the Fairhaven Library when then mayor Tim Douglas and the Library Trustees were preparing to close our Fairhaven Library. We organized south side residents and we stopped city hall.
[Friends of the Library exists nation-wide and function to help Libraries achieve their public purpose! Please do not claim full credit for 'FRIENDS'!].
We wish other neighborhoods could have such a fine facility. Its use has continued to grow each month and year. It serves all five south side neighborhoods and is very efficient on a any number of library measurement criteria.

Enough analysis for this post.
[Analysis and YOUR OPINION!]
There is more analysis that is damming to the city plans.
[What are you talking about, Mr. Servais? More conspiracy theory?]
But here is an alternative plan which I think will provide a much higher level of service to all residents for the same or fewer dollars.
[Where is your factual analysis? This seems based upon nothing more than your own preconceived speculation.]

1. Build a book storage facility in a low cost manner on the north side of town - Bakerview area, for instance. Put the 80% of the books that only get checked out 20% of the time there. Keep the 20% that get checked out 80% of the time at the central and branch libraries. The building needs humidity control but can be inexpensive and efficient for storing and retrieving desired books.
[Who would man this facility, and at what annual cost? Do you have a clue?]

2. Start building full service branch libraries. No bond issue this May. Instead meet with residents in the neighborhoods and plan branch locations and build them one at a time over the years as we continue to grow as a community. The first branches are needed in the Alderwood or Cordata neighborhoods. For years Talbot Company has been offering the city free space at Barkley Village but the library has ignored them till now - when some interest will help pass the bond issue.
[How many branches would be needed, and at what cost? What is the estimated capital cost? What is annual operating cost? Where would additional annual operating costs be funded?]

3. Combine the Bellingham and Whatcom County library systems. Talk about cutting costs and saving tax dollars.
[Are you aware of the restrictions that might prevent that from happening? Are you aware that this possibility has already been investigated?]
[That is an appropriate reaction!]
That book storage system with daily van deliveries of books is exactly how the County system works and efficiently runs 9 branches. Combine the two and efficiently run all our libraries. While the two systems cooperate now, we taxpayers are paying double for the administrative services.
[That conclusion is accurate, but legalisms do exist to prevent better collaboration. Please illuminate us to the realities. not the suppositions. DO YOU IMAGINE THAT THE LIBRARY BOARD has not already thoroughly investigated this possibility?]

4. Lets examine just what services and value we want from our library system. The Internet is steadily wiping out reference services. Do you know free libraries were started in the 1800s for - not school kids and not the general public - but to get the blue collar working men out of the bars in the evenings? True. Over the century they have evolved to serve the community. One new service they could efficiently perform is to provide as our public records source for government documents from the city, county, port and other government agencies. This is only one idea of how their services could be expanded to give us more bang for our dollar.
[Directionally, you are correct, but everybody should already know that. The Library Board's desire IS TO GIVE THE BIGGEST "BANG" FOR THE BUCK! How can you imagine anything different would be acceptable?]

5. A final point. Browsing library shelves. Well, when you do, you do not see the most popular books as they are checked out. But new Internet catalog services now allow us to browse a shelf of books at our local library and see all the books. The screen shows the book spines with titles and you can view the title page, forward and even the table of contents. Then you can put a reserve on the book you want and it can be delivered to your branch library for convenient - and environmentally friendly - pickup by you. With today's and tomorrow's Internet, we can browse the actual shelf visually online and see all the books. And that is the service we want and need.
[Of Course! Most younger -and other - folks already appreciate this, but there are still older folks among us who do not depend upon the Internet as much as as some do. Certainty, you would not want to exclude them, would you?]

We citizens need to insist that our city government and library board make a serious effort to compare their big parking garage/library plan with the options of branches, big warehouse storage of materials and combining the city and county systems. That has not been done - but the hype from city hall implies that has been done.
[You are seriously mistaken! All of these considerations are critically important and have been seriously considered by the Library Board. Before you make such accusations, please reasonably apprise yourself of the several years considerations that the Library Board has undertaken.]
We need to insist on real studies. It is worth spending good money on a cost benefit analysis and waiting a year instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a big library that may be of low value in the future. The parking garage for city and county staff perks is the only high value thing hat we are being asked to fund with the May bond issue. The library is just wrapping for the parking garage.
[Again, you are seriously mistaken! I would hope that you would undertake to attend more than the the 2 or 3 Library Board Meetings than I have seen you attend in the last 6 or 7 years. Please do not undertake to undermine the serious work that at least 7 years of serious and deliberative Library Board considerations!]

[I hope our community will see past the biased and exceptionally uninformed opinions that Mr Servais has posted, and understand that all of these serious considerations have been thoroughly addressed by the Library Board in its deliberations. I can't imagine a group that is better focused on the best interests of our community! While I thoroughly respect contrary opinion, I strongly support the effort put forth by the Library Board in identifying community needs and addressing our community's long term vision.]