Get to Know Your City Council Candidates – Maurice Classen

The Friends of The Seattle Public Library have sent a questionaire to all of this year’s City Council candidates.  We’ll be posting each candidate’s responses here. Keep an eye on this blog to see each candidate’s position on the Library.

Maurice Classen – Candidate for Position 1

When you reflect on the Seattle Public Library system, what three things first come to mind?

The Seattle Public Library system is (1) a shared source of community knowledge and home for education; (2) a system that provides opportunities for all across economic and social backgrounds; and (3) a strong source of civic pride.  The role that the library plays in our community is multi-faceted and is critical to both our shared community identity and our future.  The library has gained national recognition both for the buildings that house its activities and the repository of information contained inside its walls.  Having spent countless library hours during law school and as a reader within the Capitol Hill and downtown branches, I fundamentally believe our library system is critical to our sense of identity as one of the most educated cities in America, and for the future of our community.

Given the myriad of essential human services provided by the City of Seattle, where do you rank funding for the Seattle Public Library?  Would you put it in the top, middle or bottom tier of priorities? 

As much as I value the library system and believe it is critical to our future as a city, I believe city officials must be as transparent as possible in dealing with the budget and I cannot prioritize the SPL system above public safety or public health.  Therefore, I would list funding for the Seattle Public Library in the middle tier of priorities for the city.

The Seattle Public Library has sustained budget cuts of nearly $10 million from its annual budget since 2009, resulting in Friday closures at 15 branches, employee furloughs, lay-offs, and a decrease in the collections budget. Given the City revenue shortfalls projected for 2011 and 2012, what are your views on maintaining funding for Library hours, staffing, collections, programs and services?

As I stated above, the paramount duty for a public official in budget negotiations is transparency and open dialogue.  I believe that a leader should state his or her principles up front and move forward with all parties in an open dialogue about the particular facts of a budget.  While none of us yet have an understanding for the coming budget, it is likely that we will face further deficits in our city and all departments will be required to sacrifice.  However, I remain committed to protecting as many branch and staff hours at the SPL system as possible.  In addition, I would engage the employees in the library system in the budget process by ensuring dollar-for-dollar credit toward budget cuts for any cost savings or efficiencies that the system can find.  Obviously, we are all forced to deal with incredible challenges given the nature of our current economic state, however, I will do everything in my power to protect the library system from further cuts.

As the Library’s new strategic plan states, “changes in how people access and use information, interact with one another, and in the resources, tools and capabilities needed to operate effectively in today’s society require new approaches to the services and resources that the library provides”.  What is your vision for the library of the future, and how would you support SPL’s evolution over the next 5 years?

 Libraries are critical to the exchange and dissemination of information in the coming decades.  As access to information becomes more stratified by economic status, libraries serve all members of our community equally and can become a “great evener” of system delivery.  The library must continue to provide access to information to all citizens equally.  Further, given that more and more information is available via the internet and non-written formats (DVDs, audio files, etc.), the library system must continue to focus on changes in the way that information is delivered and that could include prioritizing non-written formats on the same level as written forms.  My support for the library system will be steadfast over the next five years and I am committed to returning the system to its full capacity as soon as possible and moving toward greater investments as our economy improves.

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