Yakima Valley Libraries Director Kim Hixson recently has wrongly been made the lighting rod regarding the Terrace Heights Friendship Tea group. However, Hixson has simply been following the direction of the library’s Board of Trustees, appointed by county commissioners. The trustees, including myself, board president for the past three years, are responsible for buildings, finances, bylaws and hiring just one person, the director. I’ve known four library directors in my 32 years here, and Hixson stands head and shoulders over all of them. Her accomplishments, despite the little hiccup at Terrace Heights, are staggering and unprecedented.
Every two years, at a cost exceeding $12,000, the library system is audited. As a tax-supported public entity, it is essential the library does not exceed its scope of authority by providing services more appropriate for a community center.
I visited the Terrace Heights Library and interviewed the community library supervisor, a 15-year veteran. I was shocked at what I learned. First, the library is tiny, just 879 square feet, about a quarter the size of a basketball court but with tables, shelves, books, chairs, computers, etc. Now imagine up to 30 people taking over this space for two hours every Tuesday for a tea. Cups and other items were stored on much-needed library shelf space.
Library guidelines say a library district meeting room may not be considered a group or organization’s permanent meeting place. And there is no actual meeting room within the Terrace Heights library. There is a community room adjacent to the library, but it must be rented. State guidelines wouldn’t allow us to use public funds to rent the room.
The ongoing plan for Terrace Heights is to reorganize current space, adding additional shelving where teacups had been stored, smaller table configurations to accomodate reading and studying, offering wireless access, self-checkout stand, and children’s computer stations to improve use of library services.
The goal is to provide excellent library service that is easily accessible and available to the public on an equal basis.
Yes, we now know the Friendship Tea group has been meeting for many years. Until this past summer, when the district underwent its third middle management reorganization in four years, it has flown under the radar. I personally would give the library system failing grades in managing most of the smaller branches. That has now changed!
Six managing librarians, each responsible for their own small cluster of branches, actually spend lots of time each week at their branches, ensuring that the supervising librarians are adhering to all library policies and guidelines, no matter what their size.
That’s how the conflict started. When a new managing librarian showed up to present a library-sanctioned book program, tea party participants insisted on their own agenda. Twelve of them voiced their objections Aug. 27 to the board. Recently, a barrage of letters to the editor has been published. Great reading, but changing nothing. With the state’s new emphasis on how public funds are used, major changes are in the wind.
Only the Sunnyside and Selah libraries actually have meeting rooms. Yet we have three pages in our bylaws about meeting room use. The group was not using a meeting room, but the entire library! Tough luck for the other 1,410 registered patrons, or 883 active borrowers who attempted to conduct their business or use computers during those two sacred hours.
I don’t apologize for my decision and leadership. I personally called several tea party patrons and informed them they were welcome at Terrace Heights Library — to check out books, use computers, etc. But no more tea parties.
• James E. Barnhill is president of the Yakima Valley Libraries. He is a former publisher of the Yakima Herald-Republic.