The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to impose overdue fines on previously exempt children's books and English-as-a-second-language materials, charge a $5 fee for interlibrary loans and limit the number of materials a user can check out and place holds on.
The meeting was a fairly astounding thing: For starters, it began a half hour late because one of the board members, Michael Parham, was stuck in traffic. Several librarians who were in attendance had to leave before the meeting began because of the delay. Secondly: I had no idea that librarians would show up to protest the issue, and I was surprised by how many of those librarians were close to tears when they addressed the board. One librarian asked if the board had read all 24 pages of comments from librarians on the SPL intranet (some of which I quoted in my story.) They said they did. She seemed skeptical.
Some non-librarians protested the issue too, most notably a woman who called herself "formerly middle class and now low-income poor. And I'm probably going to stay low-income poor, unfortunately." She was protesting the $5 interlibrary loan fee, suggesting that if it increased from zero to two dollars, she would be able to afford it, but five dollars, she said, was beyond her price range. A student of library science at the UW addressed the "notion of equity" and proposed the idea that "a tier system [for fees according to income] would be more equitable." "There are other ways of doing this," she said.
After all the protests, the Board stated that when they voted on the issue, no matter whether the new policies would pass or not (although they had a hard time with tense issues: Parham and one other board member kept saying things like "the reason we're doing this..." and otherwise talking about the policy as though it had already passed before the vote even happened), the opinions that everyone expressed to the board were valuable and taken into consideration. And then they unanimously voted to pass the policies exactly as they had been written originally, with absolutely no changes or additions phased into the policies from the 24 pages of comments by librarians or speakers at the board meeting. Two women stormed out in frustration.
The UW student leaned in to me and said "Fat lot of good any of our comments did." I had to agree.