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Unaccountable monster: Pierce County Library System

Night of the Demon (1957)Myth: Pierce County Library System is a wonderful, caring organization, which always put the community first.

Fact: Pierce County Library System is an unaccountable monster.

In April it came out of the blue. A sudden announcement from Pierce County Library System that Lakewood’s main library was an “Aging building in critical condition”, that $10 to $15 million was required for repairs, and that

the Library System will need to remove all books, materials, and furniture from the building for a roof replacement, which may equal the cost of the entire property’s value.


Repairs far outweigh the value of the building.

It seems clear that the Pierce County Library System was done with the building, in spite of the fact that in 1964 it had won the First Honor award from the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association. The other two winners were the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, at Yale University and the Charles Patterson Van Pelt Library, at the University of Pennsylvania.

This means that the Pierce County Library System has failed to properly maintain a precious building that was entrusted to them by the Friends of the Lake District Library in 1991. And Library System dares to dismiss it as “Aging”, when it is an essential part of Lakewood’s heritage — and only 59 years old.

The Pierce County Library System made their intention clear in April, when they wrote

The City Council for Lakewood has also noted a new library for Lakewood as a priority in its strategic plan…

That’s kind of implicating Lakewood in the plan to close the library. Though the statement about the Council and the strategic plan was news to me. I looked for corroboration…

The 2021-2024 City of Lakewood City Council Goals had a single and rather vague reference to libraries:

Expand and improve utilities and community assets, such as sewers, libraries, parks, public spaces, etc.

There was a draft strategic plan, 2021-2022, which had the same, single reference to libraries.

Further evidence that Lakewood City Council was not thinking in terms of a new library was provided by their reaction to the news of the closure.

At a Council meeting on May 16, many of the council members seemed surprised that the library was closing, with two saying that they felt “blind-sided”. Another council member, Paul Bocchi, said he didn’t know that the building was in such bad shape – in spite of him being a Senior Warden at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which is right next door to the library.

Lakewood’s City Council is supposed to be the community’s eyes and ears. The fact that Pierce County Library System didn’t keep Lakewood City Council properly informed is evidence that they can’t be trusted.

Matters are made worse by an October 2021 assessment report for the main library system, commissioned by Pierce County Library System. Suggested renovations included $270,000 for parking lot improvements, $245,000 for landscaping, and a massive $1,750,000 to fix the elevator. And this is all before a 15% budget contingency – which would put the elevator over the $2 million mark.

This set the stage for Pierce County Library System’s propaganda campaign, to convince Lakewood residents that they have have no choice but to close the library. They even produced a leaflet titled “Lakewood Pierce County Library Building Condition: Myths and Facts”.

The propaganda has shown some signs of success. Many people in the City are very trusting, and they took what the Library System said at face value, rather than as the manipulations of a corporate monster, with an agenda that isn’t necessarily in the best interests of Lakewood and its residents.

As a corporate monster, Pierce County Library System would presumably regard Lakewood’s main purpose as being to contribute to its approximately $40,000,000 of annual revenue. The contributions come from property taxes, with 3.4% going to the Library System.

Not only does the Monster take Lakewood residents for granted, but it also takes them for idiots. Here’s an example from one of their propaganda leaflets:

PCLS - Myths and Facts

I think we all know that the Monster wouldn’t personally tear down the building to build apartments. No, it would sell the building to developers, and they’d be the ones doing the tearing down.

But maybe the developers wouldn’t build apartments. Maybe they’d build yet another drive-thru, peddling junk food – convenient for students of Clover Park High School, which is just across Gravelly Lake Drive.

Having said all this, the Monster has to be careful how it sells the building. Its 1991 contract with the Friends of the Lake District Library states

If the property is sold by the Grantee, the proceedings of the sale shall be used to provide and/or enhance  library service for the Lakewood area.

In other words, the sale proceeds can’t just be absorbed into the Monster’s bank account. They have to go to Lakewood.

And at this stage, we might be wondering why Lakewood needs the Monster. Lakewood is one of the largest cities in Washington State, and it shouldn’t be at the mercy of an unaccountable creature, which doesn’t respect the City and its heritage.

This would mean that the 3.4% of Lakewood’s property taxes that now go to the Monster can stay in Lakewood. And we can have real accountability, with Lakewood libraries being run for Lakewood.

The City of Lakewood needs to stop feeding the Monster.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Sallie Miles July 30, 2022, 7:21 pm

    From what I’ve been able to gather from recent PCL newsletters, the roof was last replaced in 1974 when the 2-story addition was made to the original Tenzler 1963 building. My suggestion would be to move the library to a temp location; repair, restore, and renovate original 1963 building; if not feasible to repair and renovate 1974 addition, demolish and rebuild it.

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