Mid-Columbia Libraries look at Walla Walla service

The Mid-Columbia Libraries are considering reaching out to the Walla Walla Public Library and Walla Walla County Rural Library District now that the two libraries have ended their relationship.

MCL officials haven't made a decision on whether they would support a relationship with either library, such as providing services or annexing the library area.

But some Walla Walla County library patrons, concerned about losing services now that their districts have stopped working together, have asked MCL officials about providing services.

"We can't stay out of it too much longer because we're getting pulled into it," Executive Director Kyle Cox told library board members this week.

The directors of both libraries told the Herald there's been no discussion on their boards about working with Mid-Columbia Libraries, and didn't anticipate it becoming a discussion.

"I don't see that as an advantage to us," said Beth Hudson, director for the city-based Walla Walla Public Library.

But Cox told his board he wants the library to have a policy directing him on how to approach the situation, adding that Mid-Columbia Libraries could absorb the additional demand and branches if the districts are interested.

The Walla Walla Public Library and county-based rural library district announced in June that they had reached an impasse in their discussions about continuing to work together.

That means the libraries, which have worked together for decades, no longer will share resources, such as their book collections.

And the 10,000 residents of Walla Walla County's No. 4 and No. 8 fire districts no longer will be able to have city library cards, according to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. About 1,800 of those residents currently have city library cards.

The rural library also has announced plans to build a $5.5 million branch library in the Walla Walla suburbs.

Mid-Columbia Libraries officials have attended meetings of the two Walla Walla districts for months to keep tabs on the situation.

Recently, Cox said he has fielded more questions from patrons in those districts about working with them to get services, and there have been letters published in the Union-Bulletin calling for the districts to work with Mid-Columbia Libraries.

Patrons in the city worry about the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue because the rural district won't be sharing costs anymore, Cox said.

And rural patrons are concerned about not having access to the city library's larger collection and the cost of the new branch library.

Mid-Columbia Libraries board members discussed the possible effects of providing services in Walla Walla, and some questioned whether either district would be open to working with Mid-Columbia Libraries.

"Reaching out to other entities isn't part of their behavior," said board member Tom Callahan.

The rural library district's strategic plan will be released in early August and a possible relationship with the Tri-City-based district isn't one of the proposals, said Aletha Bonebrake, library director for the Walla Walla County Rural Library District

Cox said he wasn't asking the board to decide now if they would want to contract with or annex either of the districts, only if they would be open to discussions with the districts.

"I'd like to make a statement in a month when we've reviewed the data," he said.

Cox said the districts in Walla Walla would havemuch to gain from a relationship with Mid-Columbia Libraries, which has larger collections.

Administrative costs would be minimal, and some rural Walla Walla branches, including Burbank, are close to the Mid-Columbia service area, he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com