The Friends surveyed Seattle mayoral candidates Ed Murray and Michael McGinn to find out where they stand on library and literacy issues.
Did you support Seattle Proposition 1 for the Library Levy? Why or why not?
McGinn: I worked with the library board and the city council (with leadership from council member Conlin) to put the library levy on the ballot, Seattle and our city's library system is very well used. Seattle is one of the most literate cities in the country. Circulation of books has doubled since 1998. Visits have increased by 57% since 1998.
We all saw the effects of the recession. Library hours were reduced and the library budget was reduced before I took office, leaving library with fewer books, fewer hours, and fewer resources. In 2012, there was a projected five million dollar cut to the libraries. That's not the type of library system we wanted to have in Seattle. As Seattle Public Library developed a new strategic plan, they went out to the public and engaged 33,000 residents through an online survey, community open houses, public forums, focus groups and more. People said they wanted more books, more hours, and enhanced library services.
I strongly supported the library levy because I believe libraries provide an essential public benefit. It’s also clear that the public has strong support for our library system and wants it to succeed.
Murray: Seattle is stronger as a city when we have a robust, well-funded Seattle Public Library system. While imperfect, Seattle Proposition 1 served as an important solution to a longer term funding problem in our community, and it therefore received my support.
The Seattle Public Library system is a civic treasure. It has contributed to Seattle's status as one of America's most educated and literate cities. Yet it is an inescapable fact that our city government, under the current administration, has subjected the Seattle Public Library to harmful budget cuts over the last few years. Absent the Levy's critical funds, our Seattle Public Library system would be seriously harmed.
The Seattle Public Library system must provide its core services, maintain proper hours and remain accessible to all communities. It cannot function if we do not tend to its basic maintenance and security needs. The library system must also keep pace with technology and continually enhance its collections. So many in our community rely on the Seattle Public Library system and its resources. These core services and investments are worthy of public support. The Seattle Public Library must remain on the path articulated in its most recent Strategic Plan. For these reasons, the Library Levy was the appropriate vehicle in 2012 to achieve these investments and objectives.
The Library Levy guarantees funding for the Library for the next seven years. What is your long-term solution for means of providing Library funding? Do you support a separate Library District or some other dedicated funding source?
McGinn: Continued Levy funding through a renewal is important to continue and strengthen if possible. The voters will determine if we have been good stewards of their dollars and whether or not we need to change the elements of a funding package. Longer-term, I think we should be open to other dedicated and sustainable funding sources and I’m supportive of exploring potential options.
Murray: Public funding for the library must be consistent, must invest in the library's long term future and must adequately maintain and strengthen the system's accessibility, technology and resources. As mayor my preference is to see funding for the library restored to levels previously enjoyed under past city budgets. As we emerge from the Great Recession, it is my goal as mayor to restore structural balance to our city budgeting so that we are not forced to ask the public to fund any shortfalls through levies. I would consider a Library District or some other means of dedicated funding sources, but given that the library is a public treasure I would make every effort to have our city government live up to the task of adequately funding it.
What is your vision for the library of the future, and how would you support The Seattle Public Library’s evolution over the next 5 years?
McGinn: The library of the future will shift and grow as the way our society accesses information is shifting and growing. The goals in the strategic plan to “Expand Seattle’s Access to Information, Stories, and Ideas” and to “Foster an Organizational Culture of Innovation” are key. They recognize the need to excel at providing digital information, to provide a customer experience that reflects the changing needs of Seattleites, and to be flexible in a world where information and technology is still changing rapidly.
They will also continue to provide great service to the residents of Seattle and expand their support of educational goals – such as advancing early learning efforts, in order to ensure that all kids learn to read by 3rd grade.
I will support these efforts publicly, assisting in greater reach for the library’s message. When it is possible, I will provide (or enhance) services the City invest in that support libraries the fall outside the current levy.
Murray: I envision a Seattle Public Library system that builds on its current strengths and remains a cornerstone for our neighborhoods, communities and city as a whole. I support the priorities articulated in its most recent strategic plan. The library must have the necessary resources to invest in its collections and technology. Libraries in the future must continue to have ample hours of operation across all locations in the city. The Seattle Public Library must continue to facilitate growth and development among Seattle residents. I would also like to help enhance the relationship between the Seattle Public Library and Seattle Public Schools. As mayor I will do everything I can to make Seattle an education city and the library system should participate in that effort, and can accelerate our journey to that goal.
As mayor I will convene the relevant stakeholders in our community, from neighborhood leaders to our librarians to our schools and our business community, to build a long-term investment strategy to ensure that we maintain a world class public library system.
Could you tell us about a book that has influenced you as a person and shaped your political agenda?
McGinn: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson gave me a deeper understanding of the profound impact on American society and culture caused by the migration of blacks out of the south and into the cities of the Northeast, Midwest and Western states. The story was told in part by tracking the stories of individuals who made the journey out of oppressive conditions to create their new lives.
I have a particular liking for non-fiction and first person narratives. Memorable examples include Wild Swans by Jung Chang, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip, Nisei Daughter by Monica Itoi Sone, The Oregon Trail by Frances Parkman, Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., The Northwest Coast, Or, Three Years' Residence in Washington Territory by James Swan, and Son of the Revolution by Liang Heng & Judith Shapiro.
Murray: One book that has stuck with me since I first read it was The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. This autobiography tells of her journey of faith and her radical commitment to the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the voiceless. But it was more than just a commitment to care for their needs, Day was committed to standing up for social justice in all forms—at different points she was arrested for standing up for worker rights as well as taking a stand against the war. Since reading her book, I have worked to maintain social justice as a core value of my beliefs and practices, in both my political and my personal life.