Rural Library District still at risk
New interim director announces changes, Ruffcorn increases demands
July 20, 2023
DAYTON-The Board of Directors for the Columbia County Rural Library held their regular meeting on Monday, July 17, in the Delaney Room. The meeting was attended by the public, in person and on Zoom. Board Chair Jay Ball, board members Chuck Beleny, Kevin Rust, and Sharon Mendal were joined by Interim Director Ellen Brigham. Vice Chair Karin Spann was not in attendance.
The meeting opened with Tanya Patton presenting a detailed history of Dayton's library and the community's efforts to secure the public library's future by creating the Columbia County Rural Library District. After the city struggled with funding the library, citizens rallied to find a more effective funding model.
The board worked through its agenda for the evening, which included discussing the district's drug policy and approving paying the bills.
Rust proposed suspending some expenditures until after the election. Board Chair Jay Ball said the library's activities should continue unchanged as the petition works through the system. The board tabled the discussion until the next meeting.
Approximately forty members of the public attended the meeting at the library and on Zoom. Ball opened public comment, which was focused on the library petition. Most speakers who supported the petition said they did not want the library to close but wanted the offending books moved from the children's section or the library. One person suggested some of the offending books could be kept off the shelves and shipped to patrons who wished to check them out.
"Books should be moved out of reach of children and monitored," said one audience member.
Chair Ball interjected, asking the new interim director to give details from her director's report in the July newsletter.
Brigham said, "I know that I am entering this position, it's the third day, at a time of a lot of divisiveness and even anger. So we want to make some changes to give everybody a better library experience, everybody, people on both sides, in the middle, everybody."
She said that first the library will be moving the entire young adult non-fiction section upstairs to be combined with adult non-fiction section. She said this will make it easier for adults of all ages to know where to look for material, including subjects like college prep. This should also give parents with young children peace of mind to browse the children's section downstairs.
After Ball returned the meeting to public comment, Jessica Ruffcorn, a Dayton resident who submitted the petition to dissolve the Rural Library District spoke on its status. She started by saying she and her group had heard rumors about books being moved.
"I personally was very excited to hear that the rumor was true. Before getting into the nitty gritty details that I am sure the room is eager to hear from me about, I want to thank Ellen with a sincere heartfelt thank you. This is an amazing positive step forward for the library and for our community going forward.
Next, Ruffcorn said she would answer the question she thought was on everyone's mind, "will the petition to dissolve the library go away, and unfortunately the answer to that is no."
She explained that the petition is in the hands of the county auditor, If signatures are certified, it will go to the library board who must accept it and place it on the November ballot.
Ruffcorn said that didn't mean all hope is lost though. She said she asked the community involved in the petition where they stood after hearing books were being moved. Though it started with inappropriate books in the children's section, the lack of action by the director and library board had created distrust and raised many new questions and issues to be addressed.
Ruffcorn presented the following demands to the library board:
1. She and those involved in the petition would like to see a complete list of the books being moved. She said there are books not in YA section that are in question.
2. The library board must revise the policy on collection development so the books cannot be moved back in November, or that new books won't be added that bring up the same issues.
3. Revise the challenged book policy; "as previously we were told that any challenge brought to the board or director would be turned down."
4. The library must "break away" from its relationships with Washington Library Association (WLA) and the American Library Association (ALA).
5. The resignation of Jay Ball "on the grounds of him attending and creating a presentation that showed the community of Dayton and its citizens in a bad light to the WLA without the knowledge or approval from the rest of the board."
6. The last issue was the budget which she said was out of control. "There are way more tax dollars being used than what is needed to run a successful library," Ruffcorn said. "However, because the library was set up as a permanent taxing district, I understand that "We the People" cannot hold the board to any promise of compromise to reduce the budget, each year they can take the same amount or raise it more." She was not sure how to solve the issue but would be open to hearing ideas or plans the board may have.
She continued, "Had we been able to have discussions about these issues at the get go, this all could have been settled by just moving the books, but now by coming to the meetings other issues have come to light. You (the board) refuse to answer questions at the meetings and won't respond to emails or our requests to meet."
Ruffcorn told the board that a "no" answer is an answer. If it wanted those involved with the petition to help campaign to save the library, the board might want to reconsider its position and come to the table for discussion.
The last speaker, Vicki Zoller, challenged the attendees to remember the social contracts taken out by communities to care for those who are the least of us. She pointed out that those at the meeting are not the people who will be affected by the closing of the library.
"Not one of you would be affected because you have assets. You have the money to buy the books you want, to go online and access the internet, have computers, stream games and your programs. You have everything you need. It won't affect you," she said.
To those proposing the dissolution of the district, she said "You think you can shut it down, wipe it all clean, and everybody is going to be happy and fine. You are ripping this community apart."
Public comment was concluded and the meeting adjourned.
Below is the Directors message from the July 17 CCLD newsletter:
I'm Ellen Brigham, and I'm honored to have been selected as the library's Interim Director!
A little about myself: If you're a regular of the library, you've probably seen me at the front desk. I've worked here since the summer of 2021, after moving to Dayton from Walla Walla in the fall of 2020. I earned my Master's degree in Library & Information Science from UW in 2018, and working in a library has always been my dream career, so to have the opportunity to be here at the Columbia County Rural Library in this great town is a dream come true.Todd Vandenbark has left big shoes to fill, and I hope I can meet his energy and dedication to the library and the community.
I'm entering this position at a time of a lot of divisiveness in this community, so we're making a few changes to give everyone a better library experience.
First of all, we are moving the Young Adult Nonfiction material to be with the Adult Nonfiction material on the main level. This will make it so adults - young or old! -won't need to look in two different places for things such as college prep materials, and will hopefully give parents with young children who browse the lower level more peace of mind. We will also be adding a section to our Parenting Section for parents to read alongside their children, containing books on topics such as consent and sexual education.
This is a big undertaking, so if you stop by next week, don't be surprised if we are still working on moving everything!
Secondly, I'll be implementing "office hours" so that anyone who has questions about what the library is up to can feel free to stop in for a chat. I'm spending this coming week getting my bearings, so next week's newsletter will announce what days and times those office hours will be.
Have a great week and we hope to see you at the library!