Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Senate Bill Passed regarding Dissolution of Libraries

The Washington State Legislature in 2024 passed Senate Bill 5824, which addresses the mechanisms for dissolving libraries and library districts in the state. This bill modifies the process, outlining how to handle library materials, properties and debts, as well as the procedures for voting and petitioning for dissolution.

Previously in Washington State, a library could be dissolved by the electors of the government unit where the library is located. This bill allows a library to be dissolved either by its own legislative body’s initiative or through a petition process involving the public.

Additionally, it requires that at least 35 percent of qualified voters sign a petition requesting the dissolution of a library, an increase from the previous 10 percent. In the case of a library district dissolution, all library materials will go to the state library. 

In a statement to The Wire, Washington State Senator Sam Hunt discussed the primary motivation behind proposing Senate Bill 5824 and what issues it aims to address in managing libraries and library districts in Washington. 

“In 2023, petitioners in Columbia County gathered enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot to dissolve the Dayton library district. According to reporting from the Seattle Times, roughly two-thirds of the 2,800 registered voters live in Dayton city limits.,” said Hunt. “But since the library is structured as a rural library district, state law says only the approximately 1,000 voters who live outside the incorporated city can vote on what happens to the library, despite Dayton residents paying taxes to fund it.”

“We saw the library in Dayton on the verge of becoming the first library in the country to shut down because of a dispute over the books inside. All of those who could be affected by the closure should have a say in what happens to their shared resource. We’re just trying to give all the people a voice and not let minority rule,” Hunt said.

Hunt also mentioned that it will be the responsibility of the library districts to implement and follow the bill, as well as the local county auditors to follow the law when citizens want to place an issue on the ballot. 

Instruction Coordinator and Outreach Librarian Emily Pearson and Student Success and Instruction Librarian Bridget Scoles discussed the bill in a statement to The Wire

“Libraries are undeniably important in Washington State, especially in rural communities. Libraries provide more than just books; the library is a place for early childhood literacy, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) programming, technology training, among many other programs that are vital to support learning at all stages of life. With this new bill, Washington State has added a layer of protection to public and rural libraries, making it much harder for libraries to be dissolved,” they said.

The statement continued by discussing the effects that students and educators may face as a consequence of the bill and the possibility of libraries dissolving. 

“In our opinion, dissolution would have been a tragedy for the Dayton community and also could have had cascading effects as other proponents of book banning might have taken similar actions in their own libraries around the country. [We’d] hope students and educators in the Whitman, Walla Walla and Southeast Washington communities would feel similar. Dissolution is a very extreme measure that the situation in Dayton brought attention to. What we’re seeing more of is book challenges, which have come up at Walla Walla High School and Wa-Hi students and librarian Kim Cassetto have done great organizing around the issue,” Pearson and Scoles said. 

In a statement to The Wire, Brianna Hoffman, Executive Director of the Washington Library Association, described possible long-term implications of the bill on the state. 

“The long-term implications are that it will be harder for a few people to attempt to dissolve a library based on their disagreement with materials in that library,” said Hoffman. “This is a win for democracy and intellectual freedom and a win for the citizens of Washington who use libraries not only for books but for lifelong learning, workforce education, access to technology and other needs that make libraries truly a community space.”

Senate Bill 5824 represents a significant legislative step in addressing the complexities around the dissolution of libraries and library districts in Washington state. It reflects ongoing conversations around the future of libraries and their role in a broader societal landscape. 

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