The District's Future
The Timberland Regional Library has reached a point in its
development where fiscal constraints have begun restricting its
ability to improve and expand public services. In fact, the·
district may find by year's end it currently is unable to support
all programs now in place. Fortunately, the District Board of
Trustees and Administrative staff have been aware of potential I
funding difficulties since the beginning of this decade. The Board
and staff have developed a Planning Task Force to examine library
service in Timberland and both groups are prepared to initiate a
review of the District's structure.
The charge of the Planning Task Force, which includes Board
members, Professional staff, and non-professional staff, is
multi-faceted. The group is to gather information about the
library District and its participating communities. This i.ncludes
compiling demographic data such as the number of young children,
teenagers, and senior citizens in the Timberland service area;
educational and occupational characteristics of the population;
literacy rates; and population density changes. The Task Force
must also identify other cultural and i.nformation resources that
complement or supplement district library services.
In addition to gathering data about population
characteristics of the Timberland service area, the Planning Task Force must complete a survey of library users and non-users. This will help district decision makers to understand the library oriented wants and needs of the Timberland community.
The information about the Timberland Service area will require careful analysis. This analysis should be complimented by a complete study of the District's physical facilities. The Task Force then can develop a description of library services and the means by which they currently are made available to the public.
Once the Planning Task Force has completed its field work, it must prepare for the Timberland Board of Trustees a statement of the purpose of the library district, proposed goals and objectives, and strategies for achieving these objectives.
The accomplishment of the first stage of the planning process from the research stage, through the recommendations of the Planning Task Force to Timberland Board, to Board action on those recommendations, should prepare District decision makers for the further task of examining issues relating to Timberland's structure and governance.
At the time of Timberland's formation, libraries in contract cities provided the immediate physical means for the newly formed district to make service available to its residents. The cities that cooperated with Timberland certainly recognized the benefit of joining the district and probably did not find it necessary to have complicated contracts that clearly defined their rights and
responsibilities. However, over the years there developed numerous
questions about building maintenance and operating costs. Many
contract cities began to feel that Timberland should share the cost
of operating physical facilities. The District successfully
avoided providing building support but in many cases the fa~ilities
suffered by being only marginally maintained.
Timberland officials should recognize that more carefully
written contracts must be developed in order to avoid serious
facilities maintenance arguments in the future. The District must
work with member cities in establishing comprehensive contract
language relative to library buildings and building support. This •
may require that Timberland agree to some some level of financial
participation in the future. However, as long as the relationship
between the cities and Timberland is merely contractual, and
mechanisms exist for cities to withdraw from the district, such
direct support is unlikely.
Another concern of contracting cities is the formula used
for establishing annual city contract fees. This is an issue that
should be discussed with representatives from the seven cities that
have not annexed to Timberland. It is apparent that many city
officials do not understand the District's contract fee formula;
others understand the formula but resent Timberland's requirement
that it be universally applied. The Timberland Board would do well
to review all possible city contract fee alternatives in order to
avoid discontinuing services to a city unable to pay its required
annual fee. The withdrawal of a contract city, or cities, from
Timberland would make service to rural populations difficult in
There is no contract fee disagreement in cities that have
annexed to Timberland and become an integral part of the district.
Unfortunately, the argument that Timberland should contribute to
the day to day operating costs of library buildings in these cities
is very persuasive. The District Board of Trustees has avoided
payment of such costs, usually arguing that there is no legal
basis for supporting city owned buildings. The question has not
been tested in court; but Timberland probably is in a weak *
position. The District Board must cooperate with officials from
annexed cities in developing a mutually acceptable solution to the
building support problem as it presents itself in annexed cities.
Establishing a cooperative environment for city/district
discussions will be particularly important if cities begin to
experience a recurrence of the financial problems of the late
1970's and early 1980's.
A final structural issue relates to financing library
building construction in annexed cities. Officials in a number of
cities have suggested that Timberland is partly, or wholly,
responsible for construction costs of new facilities in annexed
cities and towns. There has been no building project requiring
open discussion of the matter; but this capital financing issue may
be the most difficult Timberland faces in the future.
Timberland does not have the means of funding a major building project without issuing General Obligation Bonds. Issuing such bonds would require a favorable vote by the residents of the entire Timberland service area. This includes all voters in the unincorporated areas of the District as well as voters in annexed cities and towns. Contract cities are not an integral part of the District. Approval would be difficult to obtain for a project benefitting (directly) only a small portion of the five county region.
A number of changes must occur before Timberland can agree to undertake city library building projects. The most important would be: 1) deletion of the R.C.W. provision allowing annexed cities to withdraw from their parent districts and; 2) implementation of legislation allowing Inter-County Rural Library Districts the power to establish Local Improvement Districts and issue Bonds for such districts. Such legislative changes are not easily accomplished. They require the type of broad statewide support that begins at the grassroots level.
The first step in encouraging the popular support for legislation benefitting the Timberland Regional Library, and district libraries in general, is solving the problems related to library governance. It is not clear to the public how District Library Boards function. Further, City Library Boards, both in contracting and annexed municipalities, are not certain of their relationship to the Timberland Board. Clear and complete
definition of these Boards and their respective responsibilities is
When the Timberland Library first was established, the
Regional Board of Trustees was responsible for providing library
service to the citizens of the unincorporated areas of the
District's five member counties. This responsibility included
furnishing staff, materials, and facilities to rural residents.
City Library Boards had similar responsibilities to their
populations. Most City Library Boards in the Timberland service
area opted to contract with the larger District when it was
established. Participation in the Timberland system relieved them "
of the problems of providing adequate staff and materials.
Unfortunately, many library boards came to be viewed merely as
caretakers of library buildings. They were seen to have the
responsibility for building upkeep but little else. In time, even
city contract fee discussions became an administrative task
accomplished by through correspondence between Timberland
administrators and City officials.
The relationship of the Timberland Board to Local Boards,
and the powers of those respective bodies. did not seem important
until the late in the 1970's. At that time, cities threatened to
discontinue contracting with the Regional Library system because
they were experiencing financial problems. As discussion between
the library district and various cities progressed, it became
apparent that a key element in intergovernmental relationships had
been overlooked; there had been little or no formal communication between Timberland and its cities.
During the late 1970's and into the early 1980's there were numerous meetings of City and Timberland representatives. New lines of communication began to form, and a definition of the relationship of Timberland to participating cities began to emerge. Unfortunately, a clear definition of those relations had not been been accomplished before a change in the statutes allowing citie s to annex to library district was enacted and twelve of the nineteen contracting cities voted themselves into Timberland.
The annexation of the contract cities solved a number of financial issues, calmed a tense situation, and left the overall question of library governance on hold. Officials in many annexed cities have reached a point where they no longer agree that a local library board is important. They are willing to place the entire responsibility of library governance in the hands of the Regional Board. This is neither practical nor desirable.
It is important that local library boards continue to work toward defining and fulfilling the library needs of their constituents. These boards must serve as the link between city residents and the District Board of Trustees. They must provide the Timberland Trustees with the facts necessary for informed decision making. The annexations of the early 1980's did not lessen the need for such input; they made it more critical. The library system is much more complex that it was in the past and
it requires broad representation from all areas. Each community has its own uniqueness and its own Ln fo rma t f.ona L requirements. Local boards relate these requirements to the larger regional body.
In the next few years the Timberland Regional Library will develop and implement service plans for the future. This planning will require that the library district cut back to service levels that will be affordable through the balance of the 1980's. The planning will require a high level Of cooperation between library and city officials. The library needs of rural and city residents alike will require careful interpretation. This cannot be accomplished unless there are strong city library boards ready to represent their constituents to the larger Timberland system. Working together in a spirit of continued cooperation, city and district officials can assure the future of excellent library service in the five county area.