Submitted by Walter Neary.
I had the pleasure of being quoted recently in a story by The News Tribune related to the main branch of the Lakewood library. There are clearly a lot of people who want to save the current library building. In order to understand how to move the Pierce County Library System, we need to understand that the Pierce County Library System is the least accountable taxing authority and government in this area.
With pretty much any government you can think of – the state, Pierce County, Lakewood city, the water district, the fire district – you can run for office to help govern the organization. You cannot run for the Pierce County Library board of trustees. The decisions of the library system are made by people who are not elected. That board is appointed by the Pierce County Council, which otherwise offers no guidance or oversight.
So you might think it’s pointless to affect or move the Pierce County Library System. But I don’t think that’s so. Because you are a member of the public, and you have rights.
I attended a couple of board meetings a couple of years ago when there were rumblings about Lakewood. (There were no rumblings about closing the downtown branch). And I was the only member of the public there. If the Pierce County trustees never see anyone from Lakewood, of course they’re not going to be thinking of Lakewood. Why should they? “Oh, so a building has to close because of neglect, does that really matter?”
If the Pierce County Library System is the right organization to provide library services for Lakewood, we need regular Lakewood representation at the board meetings. We need some of us to show up at these meetings. You will learn how they spend their money – where’s it going to? They will not be able to operate in darkness, and let me add, that’s not their entirely fault, because nobody from the public is showing up.
The library board meets at a terrible time for those of us who are employed (or for people who care for children at home, etc). They meet 3:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month (here’s the schedule www.piercecountylibrary.org/about-us/board-trustees/meeting-schedule.htm ) at the Library’s Administrative Center & Library, 3005 112th St. E. (corner of 112th and Waller Road) in Parkland.
You can absolutely go to those meetings. You introduce yourself to the nice person at the front desk, and then they unlock a door and lead you up some stairs to a meeting room. You have as much right as a member of that board to be at a meeting, according to Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. And you have a right to a copy of any documentation that they hand out to the board. If you go, let me know and I can bring you up to speed on the opening public meetings act and the public records act – the library wouldn’t have much reason to know of those things since people don’t regularly attend their meetings. I’m happy to take turns with a small community of people, I just can’t be there myself every Wednesday because I’m usually working in Seattle. This is the challenge, isn’t it? So many other things to do on a Wednesday.
The board will be astonished to see you. People from the Pierce County Library System will read this column and expect full well none of you will show up. People never do. They say they care about library service, but they don’t show up.
But if you were there – you could tell others what you see. And then at least there would be light shining on the least accountable government in Pierce County. And library system trustees and staff will be thrilled for the most part because your presence would show that someone cares about what they do.
Now – to be fair, you will also learn about what the library does spend its money on. You will hear reports about library services in places you may have never seen in the county. This strategy is also meant to educate you. It’s a huge challenge to maintain library service in a big county. And these are librarians, not building maintenance professionals. They have their challenges and limitations. So do the many rural communities that the system services. You will learn about each other if you go to the board meetings, and that’s desperately important if you want to build empathy with anyone. Because it’s going to take empathy. There’s no leverage unless Lakewood were to have another source of library services.
This is not a ‘let’s save the building’ thing. That’s like thinking a football game consists of one quarter. Does any team win football games by focusing on just one quarter? There is a long game here: Encouraging appropriate library services for Lakewood.
One good sign is that the Pierce County Library System and the city government have formed an advisory board. There will be a lot of talk, and good information and ideas shared. In a way, that advisory board substitutes for the fact that nobody goes to library board meetings and knows what the heck is going on. But at the end of the day, it’s the library trustees who will decide what the library does. And even once they make a decision, a year from now, or five years from now, they have to be held to it. If they open new sites in downtown Lakewood and in Tillicum or reopen the current main building, someone has to remind them to maintain those sites to avoid more condemnation by neglect.
If we really want to affect the course of Lakewood library service, it’s going to take people who can show up at 3:30 on those Wednesdays or whenever the board meets. Signing a petition is great, and makes you known to the community, but here’s the bottom line:
Moving the least accountable government in Pierce County is going to take the most effort.
PS – If someone is going to their meetings now, my apologies, feel free to shout out!