Sunday, December 18, 2005

Human Face Is Library's Heart (by Nicole Brodeur, the Seattle Times)

Caption Note: Richmond Beach branch of the King County Library System
caption source
Note from the blog editr: Richmond Beach is located in the city of Shoreline bordered the North of Seattle.

Illustration note: Nicole Brodeur (Seattle Times)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It was our Thursday night ritual back in Carolina. The K&W cafeteria for dinner and an evening among the stacks at the Cameron Village Library.

Over the weeks and years, the librarians there became family; surrogate aunts who introduced my son to Mike Mulligan, showed him Where the Wild Things Are, and sat beside him while the Titanic sank. So I understand the quiet riot that started at the Richmond Beach branch of the King County Library last month when it was announced that longtime librarian Anina Sill would be transferred to work at the Bothell, Kenmore and Lake Forest Park branches.

Sill's move is part of the library's system of clustering — spreading staffers among two or three branches to share their time and gifts. Since 2001, about half of KCLS's branches have been clustered.

But in Richmond Beach, Sill's deployment to three out-of-town branches felt like Mister Rogers had been booted from his neighborhood.

She lives next door to the branch and has been working there for 32 years — since she was 16. She even has a column in the Richmond Beach Community News.

Her December piece was bittersweet: "As your Richmond Beach librarian, I bid you a fond adieu; as your neighbor, I'll see you around."

Patrons petitioned KCLS Director Bill Ptacek, who said Sill may return to the Richmond Beach-Shoreline cluster next spring.

But neighbors still fret over the cost of clustering.

"You read about people wanting third places, and that's what this one is for us," said Ann Shulz, 55, who moved to Richmond Beach in 1981 because "walking to the library was my idea of heaven."

Her children found the library a welcoming place, even taking their hamsters in for a visit with librarians.

Again, I understand the value of a home away from home, where people know one another yet can travel to faraway places, one page at a time.

The clustering is a response to the system's success, Ptacek said. Book circulation is up 6 percent from last year, when the KCLS was named the second-busiest library system in the country.

Also last year, voters passed a bond issue that will allow the library system to build three new libraries and expand several others. But since the system depends on property taxes, operational costs are limited.

"We're taking the exact same staff resources and using them in a more flexible way," he said. "It's not like we're taking librarians away from the community they're serving. They'll just be down the road."

Shulz is skeptical: "All we know is what we care about, which is we have a small library and we like it that way."

I get that. Start pulling at the few connections that we still have in our communities and they are bound to fall apart. I understand the need to manage costs, but there are places where people matter more than just money.

One book can open a mind. And sometimes it takes a trusted, familiar hand to find it.

Trust me.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

She still misses Cathy and Grace.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

link to the original posting

link to the King County Library System

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