Could Library Report Signal 1st Step Toward Merging 2 North Burien Libraries?

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members will receive a report at tonight’s meeting (7 p.m. Feb. 7) that could have long-term implications for the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries.

The King County Library System’s (KCLS) 2011 North Highline Library Service Area Analysis (council agenda PDF file here, see page 45+) will be presented by director Bill Ptacek and Jennifer Wiseman, public services project manager.

This report will also be presented and discussed at the March 3 North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting.

In addition, surveys on library use will be conducted in both English and Spanish in these two service areas this month and in early March. The results will included in an update at the March 29 KCLS Board meeting.

No presentation or development of recommendations for future use or merger of the libraries is scheduled for the March meeting.

But odds are good that anything Ptacek and Wiseman say that even hints at a possible merger of the two North Burien libraries will meet with opposition from White Center and Boulevard Park residents.

Funding for a new White Center Library and improvements to the Boulevard Park Library was part included in a bond issue approved by King County voters in 2004, which is paying for new and renovated facilities throughout the KCLS service area.

That bond issue included construction of the new Burien Library, which opened in June 2009.

The report to be presented tonight shows that all libraries in the study area, with the exception of Kent, “exceed the System cost of $4.42 per circulated item. In contrast, half of the libraries in this study have a lower cost per visit than the System cost per visit at $8.38 per visit.”

It also projects the greatest percentage of population and total household growth will occur in Boulevard Park and Burien, followed closely by White Center.

“The proportion of the population living below poverty level is greatest in … White Center, SeaTac, Des Moines and Boulevard Park,” it continues.

And use of the “White Center and Boulevard Park libraries is concentrated to patrons in the immediate neighborhood,” while “the Burien Library is a destination library that draws people from throughout the area, including South King County and Seattle.

Might the White Center library branch end up merging with Boulevard Park's?

The report also notes “a high concentration of schools” near the White Center and Burien libraries.

Likely a finding of special interest to advocates of keeping both libraries open is a statement that “with limited public transportation routes, and only two points at which to cross underneath it, State Route 509 presents a geographical divide in the North Highline community.”

The Library Service Area Analysis will be used to determine “where libraries should generally be located in a given area and the size of the libraries to ensure an equitable distribution of library resources….

“[I]t is important to note that KCLS is a regional service provider. Library locations must provide optimal service to the largest number of residents within the entire KCLS service area, which takes precedence over political boundaries.”

Even before Burien annexed the southern portion of the North Highline unincorporated area last year, KCLS had expressed the intent to merge the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries into a new building.

This preliminary move generated strong opposition from patrons served by the libraries in both communities.

The Seattle City Council has declared its intent to seek a November 2011 annexation election for the remaining unincorporated North Highline area, which would cut into the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries’ services areas.

But in January, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s budget office submitted a report to that council indicating that the city is in no financial position to proceed with annexation for the foreseeable future.

That cast doubt on whether Seattle will ever act to annex North Highline – and appeared to open the door to a possible Burien annexation of the area.

Lucy Krakowiak is a member of both the Burien City Council and the KCLS Board, and has stated previously that she recuses herself from discussions involving Burien libraries.

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