Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Key to the internet? Being able to read

Looking up the wall on the first floor of the NEW Vancouver Community Library
The first key to the internet is literacy. What are you going to consume if you can't read? The community I live in holds a high value on literacy. It voted to increase taxes to support a new central library, and built it!

Sort of.

Here's what really happened — we voted three times. It almost didn't happen.

In 2004, the library received 56% yes votes. Not enough to pass the bond.

In 2005, the library received 59.4% yes votes. Not enough to pass, but enough NOT to give up.

In 2006, someone threw in $5 million of their own money to back the library's efforts. Another generous community member threw in premium property valued at $2 million to build on. Everyone crossed their fingers and another vote was cast. The results came incrementally closer, 63% yes votes.


The funds built a fabulous structure on the east side of town, the Cascade Park Community Library, and was the starter package for the main branch downtown.

Happy ending? Almost.

In 2009, the library district went from being conservative to ultra-conservative. Faced with the same economic downturn as the rest of the community, they eliminated 10% of the staff and the equivalent to one day a week of service.  The message was clear, we're good stewards of your investment. They also didn't give up.

Executive Director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, Bruce Ziegman says, "In the hopes of restoring the hours and improving our book (and other things like e-books, downloadable audio books and music, etc.) budget we ran an operational levy in 2010."

Yes, undaunted, the library went after a levy following 3 bond measure attempts. If successful a 50-year old structure would not only be replaced with a new, more useful, more relevant resource, but it would be stocked and staffed.

People read the ballot. People voted. Other people read the ballots to count them. The outcome of the election remained in doubt until every last mail-in and absentee ballot was tabulated. The local newspaper wrote about the election for a week. The tally teetered and tottered between pass-fail:
August 17  Library levy trailing, but margin 'razor' thin
August 18  Election update: Library levy fate unknown
August 19  Late ballots push levy to 400-plus vote edge
August 20  Library vote nearly a lock
August 22  Reflections on Tuesday's showdown
What happened? Literacy won.

Cascade Park Community Library
Beginning April 1, the library restored hours and started buying new reading and listening materials that had been promised during the campaign for the levy.

"Now we have new libraries in Cascade Park and downtown Vancouver that will be better stocked and serve our communities for decades to come," says Bruce Ziegman.

Fifty years into the future I'm not sure we'll need all that space for books. We'll probably be teaching classes at the library facility on how to repair your Kindle. We'll probably be checking out "Everything You Need to Read in Grade School" as an electronic device the size of your credit card that will project book holograms any place there's airspace.

Hopefully, we'll be consuming more books in whatever format we invent. For now, there's five floors of wi-fi, an in-house coffee shop, and miles and miles of words to, as the new library's interior details (pictured above), to dream, discover, contemplate, enjoy, question.

Of course, with all that wi-fi, the internet wins, too.

In the meantime, I'm happy to pay these taxes.

Photos by Kailynn via flickrSLiDR.

Read more:
New library wows crowd | The Columbian
Library is open invitation to discovery | The Columbian