Advisory library board dissolves

“It just felt like we were stretching to find out what the purpose really was,” Board Chair Kim Unti said.

From the Renton Reporter archives. The downtown Renton library.

From the Renton Reporter archives. The downtown Renton library.

After several years of being annexed to the King County Library System, the Renton Library Advisory Board has dissolved.

This comes after a unanimous vote from the board in January and Renton City Council approval on April 15.

Board Chair Kim Unti said the board worked hard to try to make it work and that the monthly meetings of receiving updates on what King County libraries were doing didn’t serve much purpose.

“It just felt like we were stretching to find out what the purpose of the board really was,” said Unti, a four-year board member. “We were a bunch of active, go-getter type of people who weren’t willing to meet just for the sake of meeting.”

At the April 1 council meeting, Councilmember Ed Prince voted against dissolving the library advisory board. The council paused to ask Prince why he chose to vote that way.

Board members, Prince said, dissolved the advisory effort because it felt disengaged with the city.

“I just hate that we have people who volunteered their time and felt like they weren’t engaged enough,” Prince said. “My vote, no, is more a vote of displeasure that people were involved in the community and weren’t engaged enough.”

Prince also expressed concern library visitors won’t have somewhere to voice concerns about access and parking at the downtown library during the large-scale project at the 200 Mill building.

Unti said if there wasn’t an obvious reason for the board to get together, it didn’t want Renton or KCLS to try to think up reasons for it to stay. Unti said the loss of the advisory board had nothing to do with them feeling unsupported by the city or libraries.

“We were past the niceties,” Unti said. “We decided to take that into our own hands. We didn’t have another critical reason to continue.”

Prince said on April 1 he also thought Renton would be one of the few cities without a library board, but later received different information.

There are 12 other cities within King County Library that have their own library board: Bellevue, Bothell, Duvall, Enumclaw, Issaquah, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, Maple Valley, Mercer Island, Redmond, SeaTac and Tukwila.

The library system serves 36 of the 39 cities in King County; the exceptions being Hunts Point, Yarrow Point and Seattle.

Prince said the board has always been the voice of the residents for discussions of the libraries, and was the voice for change in the KCLS. He said they not only had a good mix of people, but at least two members on the board were librarians.

“I felt they had a good base of knowledge in what was going on and how to serve the public,” Prince said.

He said with two buildings being developed next to libraries, the board could have continued to be a voice to the residents during those projects.

Councilmember Carol Ann Witschi said what she heard in Community Services Committee is that the library board was redundant to efforts being made by King County’s board, but agreed there were more ways to engage them.

Councilmember Randy Corman then spoke at the meeting, saying that concerned him, and it concerned him if Renton didn’t have a voice in the KCLS.

Before the Renton libraries were annexed to the KCLS, the library board operated for almost a century, forming with the first carnegie library in 1914.

Recently, the board played a big role in the annexation process and in talks of possibly moving the Cedar River Library to another part of downtown. The board did a lot of community work, Unti said, talking with folks who were actively upset over the changes.

Unti wasn’t on the board but was on the ballot committee for the decision to move to the KCLS. She said there were concerns Renton would lose its identity and books wouldn’t be as available.

“The board bore the brunt of a lot of that,” Unti said. “They felt like they had a focus, a good sounding board for the city, KCLS and citizens that both supported or objected to the move.”

Then another major point of contention came up soon after: The library over Cedar River was proposed to be moved to a new location. Folks petitioned for the decision to go to a vote. It went to ballot and Renton voters chose to keep the library where it stands today. The library did ultimately undergo a major remodel to meet new standards.

But once Unti joined, she said the board needed to decide what they would do and created new objectives.

Unti said the beginning of realizing the board lacked purpose was with the opening of the new Renton Highlands Library.

“We weren’t really as involved in the grand opening as we hoped. I think that was the beginning for a couple of the board members,” Unti said.

While it was sad to close, Unti said sometimes you have to understand organizations go through this kind of change.

“Maybe something new will come out of this,” she said. “We just couldn’t figure out (why) we needed to do it monthly, but we’re hoping they will (still) gather concerned citizens to listen to.”

At the April 1 council meeting, Witschi thanked everyone for their time on the board and helping with the building of two new libraries.

“I know the people that have a heart to serve will be back. I just want to make sure we thank them all for their service,” Witschi said.

Several of the board members are members of other committees in Renton, including River Days and Museum.

One highlight in recent years for board members is their work on the Take Home reading program. The five members are committed to continue to offer free books at the Renton Community Center for kids to read or take home.

Although the board is dissolved, Unti restocked that shelf with donated books on April 23. Each member will continue to take turns to do that as long as they can.

“Because it’s something concrete we can do, I think that’s what the board was looking for,” Unti said.

The ordinance went to final reading April 15 and was approved unanimously.

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