The gilding of a library | Guest Column

By Steve Ulvi

The notion that our library is grossly inadequate – a $20 million solution being the only path forward – has been a mantra since 2018. Once again, another substantial tax increase must pass in order to avoid community degradation. The plan envisioned by vocal supporters and merely 135 people who attended meetings pre-COVID, is an extravagant community showpiece that goes beyond needed functional improvements.

Thoughtful detractors are right to speak to pertinent numbers. Facts are an appropriate starting place to keep big ideas, in a small place, tethered to earth. Our 2020 census was 7,778 residents. As of 2021 5,616 island residents carry free library cards. Isn’t membership a key number from which to extrapolate community need?

The industry-recommended space of .6 to 1.0 square foot per resident, is already substantially met by our current library footprint of 9,200 square feet and would be drastically exceeded by a new 15,000 square foot space. For populations of 10,000 or less, professionals prescribe at least 7 seats per 1,000 residents. We have that now but more space is surely needed.

I trust that most people would agree that the research portal into the expanding universe of information is technology and library association sources; not row after row of shelves filled with entertaining books and extraneous collections.

The Life Care Center is already owned by our Library District. Remodeling of that once useful 28,000 sq ft building was never part of the plan and it has, unfortunately, has become an albatross as a result of egregious maintenance mismanagement.

Numbers and direct comparisons are illustrative. Notice the year built, the population at that time, square footage sought and public taxes used of to build sustainably. Obviously, material and labor costs have increased markedly in nearly a decade!

Ferndale, WA. (new 2014 / population then 12,040 / 15,000 sq ft / cost $4.7 million / public tax levy was $500,000). Orcas Island (2017 expansion / population then 5,547 / 5,900 sq ft / $4.2 million / tax levy $700,000). San Juan Island Library proposal: (2023-24 / population est. 8,100 / 15,000 sq ft / $18 million / public tax levy $12 million).

Our existing library has a comfy, relaxed atmosphere, superb service, great staff and helpful volunteers. I have been a frequent user for 15 years. I never have a parking problem nor feel crowded. Our library chooses to continue reduced hours; 10 am to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 am to 3 pm Saturdays and shuttered on Sundays. “Banker’s hours” aren’t a way to expand the size of an “inadequate” library space.

Vote NO on this library levy. It is not a question of all or nothing! Reject this extravagant and expensive plan. Downsize the footprint, reduce flashy architectural and material costs and completely rejigger the funding sources, like other communities have, to lessen compounding financial pressures on regular families. The well-healed dreamers can step up to donate!