Great expectations, great outcomes: Library collaboration success benefits everyone

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If you weren't paying attention you might not have noticed, but there are very exciting developments occurring between our public library and our school district library. One of the concerns that arose with the 2008 ballot measure that provided our public library with dedicated funding was the concept of a branch library in the Castle Hill area. We are a small city but it's still a long walk from the westside to the public library and one of the outcomes proposed to encourage passage of that 2008 dedicated funding was to provide some sort of public library access on the westside.

The Castle Hill area of Port Townsend, particularly the area west of Sheridan, has the highest percentage of children and the lowest median income in PT. Folks are least likely to have good internet access at home. At the same time, modern branch libraries provide a place for citizens to conveniently visit the electronic card catalog and then return to pick up books they've requested. They also provide precious access to the internet for those who don't have it at home. In many cases, modern branch libraries have very small footprints, and don't even stock many, or in extreme cases, any books. They provide access, primarily electronic, to citizens in areas distant from the main library, like the folks in Castle Hill. Funny thing about internet access: Canada just declared high speed internet access akin to a fundamental right (http://www.theverge.com/2016/12/22/14052368/canada-broadband-internet-essential-service; http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/12/22/historic-decision-canada-declares-internet-access-fundamental-right-all).

Well, the fates have intervened on behalf of this good idea. One of the many wise decisions made for the new school design at Grant Street was to provide some sort of multipurpose school/community space that could be used at least some of the time by the public when school is not in session. The library, commons/cafeteria and gymnasium are sited such that the remainder of the school can be readily secured from this space. Play fields are also intended to be on the Grant Street side of the school and will be available for public use when school is not in session. These decisions will make possible some desperately needed community space on the west side.

But back to the exciting library collaboration: when our public library director and public school library director began to explore the idea of going beyond shared catalogs and looking at more fully integrated libraries, they discovered that they were out there on the leading edge of an extremely timely and popular concept. So they are bravely leading the way, informing other interested groups in much larger districts about the process and progress underway. After participating in relevant state and national meetings, they gave a joint presentation at the most recent PT Public Library Advisory Board meeting to detail the efforts thus far.

Public school libraries and public libraries operate under different regulations, and those differences will need to be addressed. Such differences include the reality that schools must limit access to some parts of the internet while public libraries generally do not. Public libraries accomodate everyone, while school libraries have clear guidelines about who can and cannot come on campus. These and many more issues need to be worked out, but listening to these two library directors and hearing the thoughtful questions from the PT library advisory board gives me great hope that the issues can be resolved because the outcome is clearly worth the effort.

Public libraries have been the repository of knowledge since at least 300 BC, as the famed Library at Alexandria was ostensibly a public library. So support your public library. And your public school district. They are two of the most important institutions in our community. And, by the way, the PT public library advisory board is looking for a few new members. It's an exciting time to be a part of the process, so consider applying if you have the skills and time to contribute to our shared future.

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