Expanding library services in Walla Walla County, including building a new county central library and administrative center, best serves Rural Library District taxpayers.
When the Rural Library District was formed in 1974, it contracted out all services to three other library systems. Over the last 20 years the RLD has grown dramatically and now directly provides library services through a five-branch library system.
But the RLD developed backwards. It did not develop an appropriate central library and administrative center first.
The RLD has saved and invested over 38 years to create a $3.5 million capital improvement fund and has built a collection of more than 88,000 items in five library branches.
Unfortunately, the library collection can no longer be housed or expanded in current RLD facilities. The rapid growth of technology has also increased the public’s need for computer access, free high-speed Internet and access to digital content.
At the same time, the public’s need for community gathering spaces and demand for books have increased. The RLD has the resources, and a solid plan, to fulfill these needs without asking district residents to increase their tax burden with a levy or bond.
A new RLD central library and administrative center is required because the needs of the RLD are fundamentally different than the city library. The city library is a department of city government, while the RLD is an independent Junior Taxing District.
The city library depends on administrative services located at City Hall, but the RLD must provide its own human services, support services, facilities maintenance, office management and financial management services. The RLD cannot continue to grow or expand services throughout Walla Walla County without a central library and administrative center.
Is this a duplication of services?
No, the RLD has seen tremendous growth of its services and facilities and has reached a moment in time where it must grow again to meet current service needs and accommodate for future growth.
Historically, only 20 percent of RLD taxpayers in suburban Walla Walla annually used the service contract with the city library, in an era where 40 percent to 70 percent usage is expected. This means that 80 percent of the residents of suburban Walla Walla chose not to use the services of the city library.
The single library building in the city has not met the needs of RLD taxpayers as shown by their own usage of its services.
The city library size is adequate to serve its own population of 31,670 at industry standards of 0.61 square feet per capita. But when the suburban population is added, this number quickly drops to .45 square feet per capita — well below industry standards.
A master plan for the city library exists that details the cost of adding additional space to the city library and projected this expansion would cost $7 million. The RLD’s central library and administrative center will cost $3.5 million — half the cost of adding similar square footage to the current city library.
The RLD’s central library and administrative center will alleviate overcrowding at the city library and provide residents with an additional location to access library services.
Is this a duplication of services? I believe we’re asking the wrong question.
We need to ask ourselves whether library services in Walla Walla County will thrive without expanding RLD facilities now. The new central library and administrative center will position the RLD to serve the needs of district residents now, and into the future.
Library services can only benefit from this expansion of the RLD’s ability to provide quality library services throughout Walla Walla County.
Aletha G. Bonebrake is interim executive director of the Walla Walla County Rural Library District.