Future legislation could protect libraries, librarians, and the freedom to read
August 31, 2023
DAYTON—The Washington State Library falls under the auspices of the Office of the Secretary of State, and due to concerns over recent attempts to ban books, staff in that office has begun drafting bills to provide librarians with more autonomy over collection development and to strengthen current nondiscrimination laws.
Since a qualified petition has been submitted to the county, the state cannot intercede in the upcoming ballot measure (Proposition 2) asking voters to dissolve the Columbia County Rural Library (CCRDL.) However, the Secretary of State’s office is working to make the process more equitable for rural library districts in the future.
Deputy Secretary of State Randy Bolerjack said that four other districts are at risk in addition to CCRDL, where only 10 percent of eligible voters were needed to put Proposition 2 on the November ballot. As applied to Columbia County, the dissolution process has an added inequity since the county’s only public library is in Dayton. The city was annexed into the district and pays taxes towards the library. However, Dayton’s voters cannot vote on the dissolution proposition.
“It requires 35 percent of the vote to recall a state legislator and 25 percent to dissolve other public districts,” he said. “So why is this one 10-percent?”
Bolerjack said his office would like to increase the percentage for putting a dissolution proposition on a ballot for taxpayer equity and to be more consistent with other taxing districts. “We want to do that to protect them (rural library districts) and, hopefully, if all goes well in this vote, it protects your district in the future,” he said.
Other proposed legislation would give librarians, not library boards, or city councils, the authority to decide what materials should be included or removed from library collections.
“It shouldn’t be for a city council member or library board to make the decision of a single book being removed,” Bolerjack said.
His office is also looking at a broader statewide fix. Bolerjack said Washington State has some of the strongest nondiscrimination laws in the country. Adding access to public library collections under the existing laws, citizens would have the right to sue based on discrimination in the event books or materials are removed outside of legal policy.
Bolerjack said Secretary of State Steve Hobbs views libraries as a communal place. And because the Office of the Secretary of State performs election oversight, libraries are an important conduit, especially for underserved eligible voters.
“It’s an incredibly important resource statewide, and every single public library matters,” said the Deputy Secretary.
Bolerjack hopes these policy bills can be introduced in December for the legislature to consider during their 2024 supplemental session.