ILWACO — “Where were you a year ago?”
That was a recurring question asked of the Timberland Regional Libraries Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Residents hailing from all over Southwest Washington crammed the Ilwaco Community Meeting Room to voice disapproval about a TRL proposal which suggests the closure of about a third of its libraries.
The proposal features a variety of recommendations on ways TRL could evolve in the next 50 years, with an emphasis on reaching more people with sustainable methods.
The document’s recommendations will be reviewed by TRL’s Facilities Committee and Board of Trustees. The document will eventually lead to the development of a strategic plan for 2020.
In Pacific County, Ilwaco, Ocean Park, South Bend and Raymond are the locations which may face the most change, according to the proposal. Ilwaco and Ocean Park would be consolidated, with additional services added to Ilwaco such as self-serve hours and mobile services.
South Bend and Raymond libraries would also be combined into one library, with the addition of mobile services and a “LibraryExpress stand,” which would provide access to services such as WiFi and hold pick-ups.
Libraries from Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason and Thurston counties are also on the chopping block. Besides those in Pacific County, locations up for consideration include Amanda Park, Hoquiam, Montesano, Oakville, Packwood, Salkum and Tenino.
According to a Sept. 28 TRL press release, the committee and trustees are to take “as much time as they need to properly shape TRL’s future,” meaning there isn’t a set timeline on when decisions will be made regarding the proposal.
As of publication, the trustees have only made one decision regarding the plan. At the Sept. 26 meeting, the trustees approved a one-year lease for the Mountain View library in Randle. The trustees will make the upcoming decisions on TRL service points, including what happens to current facilities and what facilities will be added to the system.
Library service models TRL is considering include the “LibraryExpress” model, self-serve hours at existing libraries, remote lockers, mobile services, and digital public libraries.
TRL serves Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Thurston counties through a total of 27 public libraries and seven library service partner locations.
TRL is funded through local property taxes, timber taxes, fundraising by the TRL Friends of the Library, and donations. All TRL programs are free and open to the public.
Several Ocean Park residents attended the Sept. 26 meeting to voice concern over the potential closure of the Ocean Park library, which was renovated in 2012.
Ocean Park resident Dixie Wood was one of several commenters who told anecdotes about the importance a library played in shaping a “lifelong love of reading.”
“When I go into our Ocean Park library and I see the children’s programs and the teenagers in there on their computers and the line of books that are waiting for people to pick up,” Wood said, “I realize again how important it is for every generation to have the kind of access that we have to our libraries and how important it is for the children to be able to start off their life like that and for us old people to be able to finish our life like that.”
However, Wood noted, the distance between the Ilwaco and Ocean Park libraries is about 14 miles one way.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have the wherewithal to use either this library or that library,” Wood said.
Karen Stephens, secretary for the Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of the Chamber. Stephens said the library’s free wireless internet access and on-site computers are vital for many residents who struggle financially.
“The library is part of the town just as much as our grocery stores, bank, pharmacy and all other businesses that help provide a good life in a location that is far from larger cities,” Stephens said.
Another concern for Ocean Park residents was the Meeting Tree, a tree located on property adjacent to the Ocean Park library, which TRL is selling. The tree was first used as a gathering spot in 1883 when the Ocean Park Methodist Association settled on the north peninsula.
Ocean Park resident Lesa Gleb hopes to buy the property, which was once owned by her grandmother. She said she has no plans to make any changes to the tree and intends to build a home on the other side of the lot.
“The beautiful remodel of our library in 2012 is a source of tremendous pride,” Stephens said. “Enlarging the building has created even more ways our community can enjoy our facility. We want it to remain part of the fabric of Ocean Park. We want our treasured tree to continue standing.”
The South Bend library has been closed since Aug. 29 due to building health concerns.
South Bend resident Stephanie Serrano was one of many who voiced concern about the possibility of a permanent closure of the South Bend library.
“As a small girl, a library was a sanctuary. I see it now at 59 years old when I walk in; children see that place as their sanctuary,” Serrano said. “If you take that away, if you just look at your numbers, I’m sorry but you’re in for a fight. South Bend isn’t going to let you just do that.”
South Bend City Councilperson Daryle Buchanan said he had reached out to county and state organizations about the South Bend library’s problems, which include asbestos and lead. Buchanan said addressing the library’s problems might be fixable sooner than expected.
The South Bend library will be discussed at the trustees’ next meeting on Oct. 24 at the Administrative Service Center in Tumwater.
“I deeply apologize for any distress over the past few weeks,” TRL Director Cheryl Heywood said at the Sept. 26 meeting. “I appreciate very deeply the passion people have articulated both tonight and in writing. It goes very deep for me personally and I know it goes very deep for the staff as well because we come to work everyday to serve you.”
More information on the proposal is available online at www.trl.org/capital-facilities-proposal. A feedback form and general email is available for residents who want to contact TRL about the proposal. Emails of trustee members are also listed on the webpage.