Magazine article Information Today

Washington's Governor Proposes Closing State Library

Magazine article Information Today

Washington's Governor Proposes Closing State Library

Article excerpt

The governor's office in the state of Washington has proposed closing the Washington State Library by this October. This move is part of an effort to reduce overall state spending by more than $500 million to solve a $1.2 billion shortfall in the second year of Washington's biennial budget. The budget problems are attributed to an $800 million reduction in revenue caused by the recession and $400 million in additional spending related to recent initiatives that have raised spending and cut taxes in the state.

Reaction to the proposed closing is one of utter surprise for many familiar with the situation. Just this past December, Washington spent $1.5 million in one-time costs to move the library to a new facility, deemed "temporary' while its former site is used by the state senate, whose own quarters are being repaired as a result of earthquake damage. In fact, the state had signed a 10-year lease for the library's new 50,000-square-foot Tumwater facility, at a cost of $75,000 per month in rent.

Nancy Zussy, state librarian for Washington, feels that the proposal to close the library was virtually un-researched and amounts to, in effect, an "easy target" for a state government in financial disarray. She points out that the entire budget for the library and its 145 employees is just under $9 million, a veritable drop in the bucket.

If the governor's proposal succeeds, Washington will be the first and only state in the U.S. to operate without a state library, putting in jeopardy an additional $3 million in federal Library Services and Technology Act monies now used to benefit libraries across the state. These funds are currently paid to the library, in accordance with federal requirements that mandate that they be paid to a "designated ... library development agency that has active programs and services promoting local library development. Matching state funds are also part of the federal requirements.

The Washington State Library collection is also at issue. The designated depository for about 1 million state and 1.3 million federal publications, the library also collects and makes accessible the most complete collection of Washington state newspapers, "dating back to before statehood." The governor's proposal would move the collection to other libraries throughout the state, most likely into the University of Washington (UW), which is also a state and federal depository. UW notes, however, that its collection is intended to serve its faculty and students, and is less accessible to the average citizen. In addition, the university has stated that it will need additional space and staff to host the collection.

Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Public Library system (KCPL), the largest public library in the state, says that the collection is of less concern to KCPL than the loss of the facilitator role now played by the Washington State Library. In particular, its active role in negotiating statewide licenses for electronic databases would be missed, as would its ongoing efforts to assist mostly small local and rural libraries. And naturally, everyone is concerned about the potential loss of federal support monies in the event that the library closes.

So, is the modern state library a service agency rather than a collection? …

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