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Levine tackles the White Center Library debate

By Rachael Levine

(Editor’s Note: Rachael Levine is the former president of the White Center Library Guild. She led the fight against closure of the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries. King County Library System staffers have indicated the White Center Library, currently a block within Burien’s city limits, will be rebuilt at its current site or at anther location, possibly within the unincorporated area. Levine favors keeping the library in Burien. She provides a timeline below on the controversy.)

The White Center Library was started by members of the Mountain View School P.T.A. in 1943. It began with a collection of donated books, which Nel Freeze loaned from her nearby home.

The White Center Library Guild started at the same time and their first activity was to lobby for a community library. Their efforts were rewarded in 1946 when the White Center Library of the King County Library System (KCLS) opened in a space under the field house steps.

From there the library moved to a building on the east side of the park.” (White Center Library Guild Membership Application) Access, especially for the children attending nearby schools, was a primary concern for the eventual site of the present White Center Library, which opened in 1976 and was remodeled in 1991.

A similar concern has been the impetus for the continuing support of library programs by the White Center Library Guild through modest fundraising and membership donations. These programs have included summer reading celebrations, Vietnamese and Spanish story telling, poetry workshops and the very popular "Books for Babies," started by the Guild.

Beginning in 2004, this advocacy began a new phase as the KCLS put forth a countywide Capital Bond Measure. The measure included replacement of the "heavily used and aging 6,000 sq. ft. White Center Library with a new 10,000 sq. ft. library on the present site and improvements in the Boulevard Park Library.” With this funding, other libraries in King County began to be planned with "start dates" as early as 2006.

A resolution, previously adopted by the KCLS Board of Trustees in March of 2004 was only referenced in the 2004 Voter's Pamphlet. Set forth were the conditions under which the "System shall not be required to accomplish such improvements and may apply the bond proceeds or any portion other capital purposes of the System."

In 2007, some "potential modifications" were added to the original plans. For White Center and Boulevard Park libraries, these were the "potential annexation to the city of Seattle" and rising costs.

White Center Library advocates, also took note of an "Agreement Regarding Disposition of Library Capital Assets In the Event of Certain Annexations", signed by Mayor Greg Nickels on December 21, 2007 and by Director Bill Ptacek, KCLS on January 5, 2008. This provided for transfer of funds to provide library services in the annexed area, the title to all KCLS library buildings located within the annexed area and the real property on which they are located. This agreement is effective through December 2015.

Beginning in 2009, when an attempt was made by KCLS to acquire part of Puget Park to build a consolidated "Puget Park Library", the White Center Library Guild, as well as other members of the community, including the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council and the Burien City Council began going to the KCLS board and administration to testify as to the value of maintaining both libraries.

Again and again, it was pointed out that these libraries provide accessibility and responsiveness to the unique needs of diverse and often low income patrons. Students from nearby schools can walk, bike or take (limited) public transportation to gain access. These neighborhood libraries provide access to computers, the Internet and special literacy programs for all ages. They are also icons of community history and aspiration.

With the annexation of the southern part of North Highline to Burien, both the White Center Library (11220 16th Ave. S.W.) and Boulevard Park Library (12015 Roseberg Ave. S.) became situated within the boundaries of the city of Burien and remain in the KCLS jurisdiction.

Now, however, with the White Center Library becoming situated close to a potential boundary, KCLS maintained that they might be "building a library for Seattle."

In addition, the cost of two neighborhood libraries as compared with a single consolidated library began to be framed as being "fiscally responsible" by the KCLS administration followed by the "fiduciary" responsibility of the KCLS Board of Trustees. KCLS had moved away from what voters in North Highline had been promised in the 2004 Capital Plan.

In early 2011, the KCLS conducted a community survey online and by phone, which to the Guild members appeared heavily weighted in favor of consolidation.

In May the KCLS Board postponed making a consolidation decision at their meeting held in North Bend, attended again by White Center Library advocates. At subsequent board meetings, over 2000 signatures, collected by White Center Library Guild and NHUAC members were presented to the board to "Save Our Libraries."

At one KCLS board meeting, the White Center CDA provided a van for several residents to describe how important the White Center Library had been for them in learning to live in their new community.

Choosing a site for the new White Center Library, which will finally be built, is clearly of great importance to the entire North Highline community. What library advocates are asking is that the process be transparent and that the residents have an opportunity to be part of the decision-making.

The White Center and the Boulevard Park Libraries remain funded by a dedicated King County property tax. Moving the new White Center Library north into the remaining unincorporated area would mean that if annexation to Seattle were to occur, the White Center Library would eventually be funded out of the city of Seattle general fund and our community would have indeed built a library for Seattle.

A vision of the future is why the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries were built and is valued in so many ways. Such a vision was not achieved in a one shot deal. There have been those who collected scrap metal and loaned books; those who held bake and yard sales; those who wrote letters and spent time in meetings near and far. That children would have safe access to their libraries and that their neighborhoods would realize the "lasting good" of libraries remain the values of those who have continued to look to the future.

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