state's "education governor," Gary Locke, has decided to close the Washington
State Library. Faced with a $1.2 billion shortfall, the governor is looking
to balance the budget by cutting $9 million, the entire State Library budget.
He told the staff himself. He basically told them to pack up and get out.
If they didn't pack up, then they could just get out. When someone pointed
out that this would make Washington the only state without a State Library,
he corrected the impression: It would be only the first state without
a State Library.
The Washington State
Library Is Saved!
Wednesday, April 3, Washington Governor Gary Locke, (middle) signs the
papers that save the Washington State Library. Locke is surrounded
by those involved: Nancy Zussy, State Librarian (third from right, in background),
Sam Reed, Secretary of State (third from left), Anne Haley, State Library
Commissioner (second from left), and others.
|On April 3rd, Governor
Gary Locke signed House Bill #2926 transferring the Washington State Library
to the Office of the Secretary of State, thus effectively removing the
threat of its permanent closure. Although the library will endure
a spending cut along with other State Departments, it has survived.
An extensive lobbying campaign
was spearheaded by the Washington Library Association, the State Library
Commission, and Washington State Directors, along with State Library staff,
and librarians throughout the state and beyond. They effectively got the
message across to members of both the House and the Senate that the State
Library is unique and irreplaceable, and performs valuable services for
state government, other libraries, and citizens of the state of Washington.
Both the House and the Senate voted by solid margins for the "transfer"
of the library to the Secretary of State, an avowed library supporter.
by Patrick McDonald
Locke is not alone in thinking
the library irrelevant. When talking with a library staff member, one legislator
said he never used the library anymore because everything was online anyway.
When asked how he got his online information he proudly showed how he could
go to the "Find-It" Web site and get everything he needed. This is a Government
Information Locator Service (GILS), so that's probably true. However, Find-It
was invented, funded, and is run by the Washington State Library. We don't
need a library; we just need the things that libraries do to be done.
Have We Totally Cracked?
The Washington State Library
was founded in 1853 as one of the provisions of the Act of Territory. When
the capitol campus was finished, the State Library was situated directly
across from the Capitol building itself as an integral part of state government
operations. This is prime political real estate. Last spring we had a rather
large earthquake. [See my column in the May 2001 issue, page 46.] I think
they've decided it was a 7.2 where, miraculously, no one was killed. With
the epicenter near the capitol in Olympia, the government campus took quite
a jolt. Apparently the dome actually lifted off the building and rotated
a few inches before settling back down. Large cracks appeared and the Capitol
building was evacuated. Damage in Olympia (and Seattle) was very apparent.
Several old brick buildings toppled.
Too many bureaucrats now
had a steep incentive to covet the library space, so a few months later
the library moved, lock, stock, barrel, and books, to a commercial building
in South Olympia, a "temporary" facility (though most librarians did not
fully appreciate the use of the word), for $75,000 per month. This is a
long-term lease. The governor's office says that the building will be used
because the state will be in need of additional office space. Since the
$9 million saved by closing the library doesn't make much of a dent in
the billion-dollar shortfall, one wonders: Just who will be left to occupy
As an institution that's
been in place just shy of 150 years, this is not the first time the State
Library has experienced cutbacks and shortfalls. The state managed to hang
onto the library through the Great Depression, not to mention depressions
and recessions dating from the post-Civil War era until today. What's different this
time is that we have people who actually believe the library is irrelevant
because, well, we have this Internet thing and everything is available
I've written about this
over the years, including an article many years ago in these pages postulating
the closure of Seattle Public in 2025, just for this reason. Every time
I mention this dismal scenario someone writes to me to assure me that I
have it all wrong and that books will be with us for a very long time.
They may very well be, but unless we in this state are particularly effective
over the next few months, the State Library closes for good. If it actually
doesn't close, the sentiment that it should will still be there among people
who really should know better. This is a living, breathing example where
170 people will lose their jobs and a state will lose access to a couple
million historical books and materials not duplicated anywhere else and
certainly not "available online."
Doing the Greater Good:
Maybe a Bit Too Quietly?
The fact is, the State
Library, composed of very few people, does a great deal of good statewide,
not only for legislators who don't even seem to know it, but for state
government, and for public libraries statewide, especially small ones.
In the realm of technology the State Library has been a clear leader and,
I admit, technically savvy, though I just can't resist saying, "at last!"
Moreover, its channeling of LSCA and LSTA funding, not to mention e-rate,
has put millions of dollars of technology into public libraries, including
our own. It paid for placing dumb terminals from our old Geac system (the
original Deep Thought) into high schools. It paid for our first dial-in
modem. It paid the start-up costs for LinkNet. It spearheaded a training
program whereby any IT person in the state could get official technical
training for any Microsoft certification, Cisco, Dreamweaver, you name
it, for one-fourth the usual cost. These courses typically go for $2,000
per week. Through the state you could get them for $500. What was formerly
out of reach for all but the largest libraries suddenly became available
For smaller libraries, it
has done even more. Those libraries don't have IT staffs. Many of them
are not automated at all. Yet the State Library took care of funding, installing,
and training for all libraries that would accept the graphical Internet
service. Then the State Library turned around and formed a statewide database
consortium, held an ongoing competition among vendors, and managed to get
a slew of full-text databases available to every library in the state at
vastly reduced prices. But now, because of the way federal matching funds
work, we will likely lose $3 million per year in federal funds in addition
to the State Library itself.
The State Library also helps
small libraries by hosting listservs and Web sites; thus, when you go to
Podunk.lib.wa.us, behind those modern Web screens is the State Library,
invisible, perhaps uncredited, but making it all possible. In another move
the State Library made it possible for all public libraries to join the
"K20 Network" for schools and colleges, thus reducing our ISP charges by
half. Without the leadership of the State Library, none of this would have
To some extent this is a
marketing issue. Librarians are not in the habit of standing on podiums
and shouting their own praises. Also, libraries are not enjoying the best
of the public spotlight with groups seeking to filter library computers
from the Internet. I suspect the filter-seekers are somewhat gleeful at
this, for a loss of our freedom means a gain in their attempts to restrict
It's beyond the scope of
this article to detail the reductions in other areas, including state institution
service and the 2-million-volume collection, irreplaceable and not duplicated
anywhere else. The governor has not detailed how any of this collection
can be taken by other agencies, most likely because it can't be done. Even
the state's academic libraries have no room, budget, or people to take
on a collection of 2 million volumes. The whole story is at http://www.statelib.wa.gov.
This is a penny-wise and pound-foolish attempt that won't solve anyone's
problems. It's been said that your life and property are always in danger
while the legislature is in session. Apparently also, for libraries, while
this governor is in office.
What Will Become of Our
Beloved State Library?
One of the problems with
the Washington State Library is that it is very independent. It does not
belong to any other department that might be able to shield it from scrutiny.
Instead, it hangs out there, governed by a Library Commission and quite
visible as a $9 million low-hanging fruit during this budget crisis. Unlike
most other states, Washington has no funding in place for public libraries
at all; therefore, there is no underlying infrastructure as there is with
the intermediate library districts in other states.
The Washington State Library
Association, whose president is Carol Schuyler, a person with whom I am
well-acquainted, is conducting an intensive lobbying campaign attempting
to inform the legislators of the worthiness of the library. Carol has testified
several times before various committees.
Just recently two legislators,
a democrat and a republican, introduced a bill that would place the State
Library under the aegis of the Secretary of State, an avowed library supporter.
If this passes, the bureaucratic might of the Office of the Secretary may
be able to save the library, albeit with deep cuts in its services. We
shall keep our fingers crossed.
[Editor's Note: Keep
your eye on our Web site for more on this issue. Michael Schuyler will
give us his reaction after the fate of the State Library has been decided.
In the interest of getting it out quickly, we'll post his thoughts at http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/ciltop.htm
instead of waiting through our 2-month-long publishing cycle. Also watch
for weekly Newsbreaks from the Information Today newspaper, which
you can access from the top of our home page.]