Vote for the library levy | Editorial

What would our community be without a vibrant public library?

It’s not a scenario we’d care to experience, which is why we fully support the Orcas Library Levy Lid Lift on this November’s ballot. Here’s why.

In 2015, the Orcas Island Library ranked third in Washington per capita for the number of items checked out (122,642). It is ranked second for the number of visits (133,340). It has 6,270 cardholders. The library’s volunteer hours came in at 5,275, which is 25x the Washington average.

We are clearly a community that uses its public library facility, and the time has come to meet our growing needs.

The building expansion will provide more space for kids; a teen room; additional quiet working space; two small-group meeting rooms; a dedicated computer area; more space for books; and outdoor patios for reading and Wi-Fi access.

The library board has done an incredible job of securing the bulk of the $4.2 million project, which broke ground this summer. They brought in $2 million in private donations; $1.4 million from a state grant (thanks to Senator Kevin Ranker); and $100,000 from the Friends of the Library. If approved, the levy revenue will allow the district to borrow funds to cover the $700,000 remaining to be raised (debt repayment is $128,000 annually for six years) as well as increase maintenance and operations and restore reserves.

The current levy rate is 30.3 cents per $1,000 valuation. Lopez has its rate at 40 cents; San Juan is 50 cents. The proposed measure would increase the Orcas levy to 45 cents. We think this is a nominal fee to pay for such a critical endeavor – particularly since there hasn’t been a library levy increase since 1987.

Even without the expansion, the library board says it would pursue a levy lift in the immediate future. According to the board, because of State Initiative 747, the gap between levy revenues and the cost of library services grows each year. This levy increase will guarantee that basic functions of the library will be reliably funded.

The value of libraries

Author Neil Gaiman gave a speech in the United Kingdom in 2013 about “why our future depends on libraries.”

He said, “Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces and about access to information … Books are only the tip of the information iceberg … libraries are also, for example, a place that people, who may not have computers, who may not have Internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs and apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online.”

He believes that libraries are the gates to the future. And when libraries are closed or stunted in their growth, we are “stealing from the future to pay for today.”

We hope you agree and vote yes for the levy on this November’s ballot.