ILWACO — Bob Hall is optimistic about libraries.
He told the annual meeting of the Friends of the Ilwaco-Ocean Park Libraries that while hours reductions and management cuts are being considered, none of the 27 branches should close.
“It’s possible that the staffing and the hours could change,” said Hall, who represents Pacific County on the seven-member governing board of the Timberland Regional Library system.
“As far as services are concerned, they will stay relatively the same.”
His announcement Saturday followed more than two months of turmoil last fall when a predicted budget shortfall at the regional system led to dire talk of significant cuts. At different times, South Bend, because of its aged building and being only five miles from Raymond, and Randle, one of the smallest branches, have been in the cross hairs, with cuts feared elsewhere.
Hall, a former South Bend City Council member and retired school teacher, is serving his second term, which ends in 2021.
He spoke to a group of 16 at Hilltop School in Ilwaco, reassuring library supporters that the 12-mile distance between Ilwaco and Ocean Park branches doesn’t raise red flags when he and trustees view budget priorities.
That pleased Kathleen Condron of Ocean Park. “Nobody wants something taken away,” she said. “Once they have got it, they want to keep it.”
Timberland operates the five-county system with a budget of about $23 million a year. An anticipated shortfall of $700,000 led senior managers to sharpen the ax.
Hall said even before any discussions, public opposition was obvious. “I received emails from people concerned about Ocean Park, but that was never in the proposal,” he said. “Even before the trustees had the opportunity to do anything, we had all these people testifying and yelling at us!”
Timberland linked the libraries of Pacific, Grays Harbor, Mason, Lewis and Thurston counties in 1968. It has reciprocal borrowing agreements which provide access to 10 other libraries, including King County, Seattle and Fort Vancouver.
The Timberland system is supported, in large part, by timber harvest taxes and a portion of residents’ property taxes. Often cities or community agencies own the buildings and pay for utilities and maintenance.
State rules limit the amount by which these tax amounts can be increased; efforts to ask voters to raise these caps, including one in 2009, have failed.
Ann Saari of Ilwaco, a longtime library supporter, said these rules severely limit small taxing districts. But she conceded a hike would fail if tried again. “This is definitely not a good time,” she said.
Hall noted that savings from the departures of three top managers at the Tumwater service center have so far helped save $180,000. Combining high-management jobs will help. Another cost-saving option being considered is having one director supervise two library branches in some areas, he said.
A proposal floated to build a new library in Olympia, the most populous city in the system, is unlikely to move forward, he said. “We don’t have the money now. You would have to have drastic cuts somewhere else.”
As managers ponder ways to add services without significant extra costs, hours at various locations are under scrutiny. At McCleary, managers are pioneering a way for qualified patrons to gain access to the library even when there are no staff in the building. “It’s been very well received — late evenings and on weekends,” Hall said.
Computers have been an increasingly important element at branches, with access to the Internet and printing services.
Susan Carney, director of the Ilwaco branch, said a remote printing service allows patrons with library cards to log on to printing.trl.org and print a number of documents inside the library.
“People come into the library for sometimes only 60 seconds,” she said. “It is printed out and they can grab it.”
She said this is especially valuable for job seekers, because it is common that today’s applications must be completed online.
“People can do this, or come in and use the computers, for jobs and getting their food-handler’s permit,” Carney said. “People have got a job and come back and said to us how much they have appreciated this.”
For Condron, her Ocean Park branch is essential. “The library is amazing,” she said. “I don’t think people really realize what the library has to offer.