Get to Know Your City Council Candidates – Sally Clark

Sally Clark – Candidate for Position 9 (Incumbent)

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

The first three things that come to mind are the Columbia City Library, the Friends of the Library Book Sale, and our need to care for what we’ve built.

The Columbia City Library is “my” branch library. It’s a place that looks like a classic library, hosts community events, provides a safe and constructive place for young people to engage with information and each other, and it’s a branch where I think the levy did a great job adding space.  I’ll cheat here and say I also think of the Rainier Beach branch (we live in between the two). I appreciate the way the branch has become even more of a community focal point for kids. Whether it’s a homework club or Ofcr. Cookie’s Chess Club, that branch saves lives and broadens horizons.

I have worked the Friends Book Sale in the past. I associate the event with the late, great Doug Lorentzen, a long-time volunteer who was a true evangelist for Seattle’s libraries. Doug made sure I had an invitation to work a shift and, more importantly, made sure I took advantage of the opportunity. Seattle is lucky to be a city of people who care about books (in all their forms) and about how information can empower and change lives. Doug was a great evangelist for the role the libraries and library volunteers play in our system.

Finally, I think often in my job about how we must care for what we’ve built both in terms of the physical buildings and in terms of what people find valuable inside the buildings. In this economy we have had to make tough decisions involving the collections budgets, capital spending and staff schedules. I’m committed to ensuring we have a great system. I appreciate the partnership with the Friends of the Seattle Public Library and the Foundation in making this commitment come true.

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? 

I have joined colleagues on the Council in consistently ranking libraries as a high priority for funding under the umbrella investment area of safe, healthy neighbors and safe, healthy neighborhoods. Healthy, high-functioning social capital machines like libraries work hand-in-hand with youth violence prevention programs, anti-poverty programs and police to make Seattle a great place to make a life.  After basic food and shelter, services like libraries, community centers and education support must be present to help people not just survive but advance.

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?

The Seattle Public Library has done the best job of any city entity of stepping back to assess priorities in service and management, making tough decisions, and presenting the context and rationale for these tough decisions.  Staff have weathered difficult changes in service; difficult not just because of the impact on paychecks, but also because of the impact on their mission. We invested minimally in collections and must return to a more robust level if we are to keep pace with demand and the pace of change in formats and sources of information.

I believe we face another 2-3 difficult years before the city budgets have breathing room. It’s my hope that we can maintain steady funding this year and then begin serious discussions of long-term funding strategies (e.g. a special taxing district).

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?

This is a great question – both fun and a little scary to think about. Over the long-run, no matter how much information moves to the web or the net or the cloud, I believe we will still want and need libraries in our neighborhoods. I believe there’s something gained via the interaction with the librarian, other patrons, and the value-added programs of libraries. Changes in technology have already changed our libraries’ internal design and staff functions. And yet the library is still about helping people access, use and re-configure information to yield greater knowledge, confidence and connections. Over the next five years I hope to be involved with the next chapter of the Seattle library system as a new librarian arrives and we slowly emerge from the recession.  In five years we will have successfully found a steady long-term funding source and lead in the evolution of libraries. In five years Seattle will remain a leader in information access and community value.

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