local library love

Local Library Love

By Brett Marlo DeSantis

October 2018


Did you know the oldest lending library in America was founded in 1747?


A community just isn’t a community with a library. Libraries promote our quality of life by protecting our public values, assisting in civic engagement and offering knowledge and skills. Nowadays, they even help job seekers gain employment in our own communities.

Publicly funded, libraries help facilitate a better understanding of democracy in action, providing the physical and digital spaces that are essential for civic engagement; public spaces that are neutral and inviting everyone, no matter who they are, what they do, where they come from or what they believe with equal access to information and knowledge.

Our local libraries as we know them are run by the Pierce County Library System (PCLS) and are highly used and well-loved. With twenty library locations and more than half of the population service areas as active cardholders, there are more than two million visits inside these buildings every year.

Our communities are growing and so is the amount of people relying on library services. In 2017, PCLS announced over six and a half million items were checked out!

In May of this year, the University of Washington published a paper on Public libraries as platforms for civic engagement. They were curious about what role should the world’s public libraries have in the encouragement of citizens to become more involved in politics and issues important to them. So they invited a select group of thought leaders for a conversation aimed at sparking new ideas and solutions for global action.

What they learned is “public libraries can start the conversation and provide the physical spaces, but the impetus for continued civic engagement needs to originate in communities themselves.”

Libraries are not only a place to visit, they provide outreach as well. According to the UW study, “In recent years, libraries have moved from an internal focus (i.e., “We know what we do best and we provide it”) to a focus on community engagement, where librarians leave the building and conduct outreach (i.e., “What does the community care about and how can we give it to them?”) By going into the community, librarians see what needs there are and become responsive to the people they serve.”

According to Mary Getchell, Marketing and Communications Director of Pierce County Library System, what library cardholders value most is learning, enjoyment and connection with the community. She states that the beauty of the democracy of a public library is having an informed constituency.

Librarians go out into the community to assess local needs and are responsive when developing programs. Some of the local needs include credible e-sources and fact-checking, what’s news and what isn’t. Here in the South Sound, sites include childcare centers and adult care facilities and homebound people. In more recent years librarians are working with soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; those who are transitioning into civilian employment.

PCLS also partners with Worksource, a statewide partnership which combines the services of a variety of government, non-profit and private organizations to create a one-stop resource for business and job seekers to access employment and training services. They also partner with the Emergency Food Network, United Way and sponsor community events.

While many American libraries are being reinvested in with new renovations and expansions, our local libraries are suffering from a collective twenty million dollar deficit over the past ten years.

Currently, ninety-four percent of funding for our local libraries is paid by property taxes. The remaining six percent comes from the Friends of the Library, E-Rate, fines on overdue books and materials, as well as grants. With a laundry list of needs, such as lack of funds for staffing, attaining more books and materials and much deferred maintenance on infrastructure, the library system has asked our community to approve a restored levy to maintain library services.

In an era of digital infrastructure with a shift toward transparency, could libraries combine and connect the physical gathering of local people with regional and national level engagement? With growing interest in technical labs, vocational classes, and makerspaces, will we reinvest in our public infrastructure? Will our interests change how we design our future libraries?

Libraries have become more resilient and adaptable through community outreach. How will we, as members of our community, reach out to support this system and ensure our access to free information?


Check out upcoming events: Pierce County Conversations. These events occur at many PCLS locations. Here are a couple of the Gig Harbor events.

November through December 2018

In honor of the 24th Annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24, December 3-14, Katowice, Poland) Pierce County Library encourages you to explore topics of Climate Change. From upcycled crafts to the impacts of plastic on the environment, there’s something for everyone! Here are a couple of local events:

Polar Bears and Climate Change How does a changing environment affect the polar bear? Find out in these programs for school-age kids presented by Point Defiance Zoo. Saturday, Dec. 15, 10:30 a.m.

Gig Harbor Pierce County Library

Upcycled Crafts: Making with Recycled Materials The Goodwill of the Olympics and Puget Sound region will show teens and adults how to make useful things out of useless trash! Saturday, Dec. 29, 2-3 p.m.

Gig Harbor Pierce County Library

In addition to attending a program, be sure to stop by the Gig Harbor Pierce County Library in November to view a five panel exhibition of the work of Pulitzer Prize Winning editorial cartoonist Herblock!