They all voted yay to say nay.
The Seattle Public Library. Singular. Kelly O

Last night, the Seattle Public Library's board of trustees—these five people—met to take a vote on whether to pursue a rebranding project that would cost $2 million to implement.

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Marcellus Turner, Seattle's city librarian, had been pushing for a rebrand because he thought a new logo, name, and brand statement would provide the foundation for change the library needs. But it wasn't clear—to me at least—how the expensive project was going to help make the library more accessible to people or more responsive to a changing world.

A lot of other people felt the same way concerning the amount of money the library was planning to spend on stuff that didn't serve the library's stated Service Priorities. (It didn't even directly serve Turner's vision of the library as a glorified community center where people can watch the World Cup. How would a new logo and name would bring more people in for a showing of the World Cup?)

Of the forty or so people present, only six offered public comment. That turned out to be plenty. The commenters announced varying degrees of offense, but all pretty much said the same thing. "First of all, we love the library. Second of all, this rebranding effort is absurd. Don't do it."

Proceedings began with brief comments from each of the board members—Theresa Fujiwara, Kristi England, Dan Dixon, Tre Maxie, and Marie McCaffrey—all of whom congratulated the public for speaking up and being so involved in the process. Dixon favorably compared the patrons of The Seattle Public Library to the patrons of the New York City Public Library, saying that the NYC patrons weren't as involved in policy decisions.

Tré Maxie won my heart by quoting Percy Shelley's "A Defense of Poetry," making special note of the phrase "we have eaten more than we can digest," a clear nod to the high cost of the rebrand. He then revealed some research he'd done recently using HistoryLink, saying that the governing body of the library in the 1800s had a huge debate about whether they should even include Shelley's work in the library because he was "too much of a free thinker." The board decided to include Shelley in the collection, because Shelley is the fucking best.

Maxie then stomped all over my heart by claiming that the media mischaracterized the extent and scope of the rebranding effort. He said he was "disappointed that the hard work that this body has done for two years has been reduced to whether or not we should pluralize our name or change our logo," adding, "It's really unfortunate that that's what's being reported and that's what's being focused on."

He also said "books will always remain the central focus of our libraries," and compared the controversy surrounding the construction of the central branch to this rebranding effort. Then, adding some drama to the meeting, he said he felt "conflicted" about how he was going to vote.

Marie McCaffery agreed with Maxie on principle but deferred to public outcry re: the rebrand. Kristi England and the chair, Theresa Fujiwara, were not having it from the get-go.

Dan Dixon made the following motion: “The library will not move forward with this rebranding effort, including the name change or new logo.” There was also a second part of the motion, which stated that the library board would get back together to "discuss what they've utilized from this process to better understand the community served and more clearly communicate the value of The Seattle Public Library."

Admitting that he didn't know all of the components of the proposed rebranding effort, Maxie made a motion to replace "rebranding effort" with "logo and new name," for the sake of transparency.

Dixon marshaled a defense, saying that "rebranding effort" was an umbrella statement, which made it "crystal clear" to the public that any rebranding efforts would get the kibosh. Krisiti England supported Dixon.

(To me, Maxie's language is actually less clear, because it leaves open the possibility of working on components of a rebranding effort beyond a logo and name change. My hunch is that they want to use the "research" from Hornall Anderson to guide their marketing efforts, and they don't want to catch shit for it when then do. Maxie's revision leaves the door open for that.)

In any case, they voted on the name change. England and Dixon lost. Team Maxie won.

So, the new proposal is: "The library will not move forward with a new name change or new logo.” Plus that second motion.

Fujiwara called the vote, and they all voted yay to say nay.

Yay. Scant clapping.

As reporters from other news outlets abruptly exited the room to track down those public commenters, Dixon jokingly directed those in attendance to an adjoining room for cocktails. This joke was not funny, as I was in desperate need of libation.

Instead of chasing people out the door for comment, I stayed a little bit to see what happens at board meetings when they're not talking about rebranding efforts.

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After a short break, a librarian who'd cut her teeth in the branches for several years but who now works for the central library sat before the board, clasped her hands together and said, in the voice of absolute reason and warmth, that she was excited to talk about library services. Dixon stopped her there and asked how long she'd "served in the branches," as if she'd just returned from one of our desert wars. She said some year in the double digits—I didn't write it down—and Dixon thanked her "for her service."

She then went ahead with her presentation. She talked about ways to make library tours more hospitable and welcoming to the homeless, the unemployed, and the underemployed. She also spoke of ways for the library to strengthen its connections with the Seattle Court Resources Center to help people on probation get access to benefits so that they don't wind up back in the system. It sounded like extremely difficult, extremely bureaucratic, and extremely important work. Her presentation reminded me how widely librarians can apply their knowledge of information systems, and how valuable they are to our community.

The board was right. The library board meetings meetings should fill up with denizens of Seattle every time they're held, and not just to harp on unwise spending. The work they're doing in there touches everybody. It's a space for social action, reflection, and conversation. A place where everyone can go.