Julie McDonald: Timberland Trustee Asks for Feasibility Study of Library in Toledo


Toledo volunteers who opened a community library in August 2014 wonder whether the Timberland Regional Library system will ever provide more than a computer kiosk to local patrons.

That’s why it was great to learn that Brian Zylstra, one of two Lewis County trustees on the Timberland Regional Library (TRL) Board, asked library staff last month to study the feasibility of creating a full-service library in Toledo.

It might never happen. But a study would be a first step.

“When the Timberland trustees discuss their 2022 goals in the next month or so, I’ll ask that TRL do a feasibility study on creating a library branch in Toledo,” Zylstra said.

Toledo city voters decided in the fall of 2013 to join the TRL system, meaning they would pay taxes to support the library district. People like me who live outside the city limits have paid library district taxes for decades.

Cheryl Heywood, Timberland’s executive director, noted that voters were promised only a library card, never a full-service library.

“An annexation equals a library card and access to all of our resources for free,” she said.

TRL did install two computers at a kiosk inside the former Toledo Pharmacy building that Bill and Pat Caldwell remodeled into a volunteer-run library.

“I know there are library users in Toledo who would like to see an upgrade to a fully functioning library branch there,” Zylstra said. “I think it’s time to do a study on this. If the board agrees, and if a study shows that a branch in Toledo is doable and that TRL can afford it, then I think that we should make it happen. If a study is conducted and it shows a branch in Toledo isn’t feasible, then at least we really looked into it.”

I appreciate Zylstra’s advocacy on the part of Toledo residents. As Heywood noted, he’s only one trustee, so a majority of the seven members would need to support his position before a study would be launched. I hope they do.

Because of the Caldwells and two dozen volunteers, a wonderful library graces downtown Toledo. Book and bake sales cover utilities, people donate books, and volunteers provide paper products, coffee, cups and other items.

“Our expenses are not bad once we get the utilities paid,” Pat Caldwell said. “Bill and I still pay the insurance and taxes, and if there are any repairs needed to the building, that is on us.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the library was open 18 hours a week. After forced closures, it reopened for 12 hours a week.

“Some of our volunteers were uncomfortable coming back when we reopened,” Caldwell said.

More than two dozen people visit most days when the library is open. With the kiosk, people can order books from Timberland and pick them up at the library.

People who stop by often comment on the library.

“I am amazed at the number of books and DVDs we get donated,” Caldwell said. “Another highlight is the friendships that have developed among our volunteers and the patrons.”

Volunteers also started a Free Little Library in Steamboat Alley where people can borrow and leave books.

Yet uncertainty lies in the future.

“The biggest challenge we face is the question of what to do if TRL never makes us more than kiosk,” Caldwell said.

Heywood said the city of Toledo would need to own and maintain the building before Timberland would consider a full-service library there. The Caldwells are willing to donate the 1,890-square-foot building, which is valued at $72,200, but only if it’s used as a library.

Caldwell scheduled a meeting Monday morning with Mayor Steve Dobosh and Michelle Whitten, city manager, to discuss the possibility of the city taking over ownership of the building for a library.

“That was the issue five years ago,” Heywood said. “They (the city) couldn't afford the building. They couldn’t afford the upkeep. They couldn’t afford the custodial and the maintenance. And so that’s part of the annexation.”

Caldwell schedules volunteers, cleans the building, recycles books and oversees the library’s finances. But someday, she and her husband will step back — but they don’t have a plan in place for the building.

It would be nice if Timberland absorbed the community library, expanding its hours and offering access to more current books and library programs.

Voters in five counties — Lewis, Thurston, Mason, Pacific and Grays Harbor — voted in 1968 to form the Timberland Regional Library to serve rural communities without access to public library services.

Even today, 53 years later, some 110 rural communities such as Onalaska remain underserved, which Heywood called “a travesty.”

That’s one reason library officials want to start a bookmobile. They put a deposit on two state-of-the-art, 36-foot-long mobile service trucks complete with computer labs to service rural areas. Each costs $425,000, but with pandemic-created supply chain issues, the company could no longer promise to deliver the trucks and refunded the deposit. Now library officials are looking at smaller, secondhand units that would travel the five-county district on a regular schedule delivering books, offering computer and printer services, and serving as mobile kiosks.

Morton also has a library kiosk at Centralia College East, and the Packwood library received fresh paint and carpeting, while a new $2 million state-of-the-art library may be constructed in the Randle area, half of which would be funded through a Department of Commerce grant, Heywood said.

Library staff are tagging books and other materials with what is called Radio Frequency Identification of barcode numbers, which is intended to streamline the process of checking multiple items in and out at once.

Sixty-eight percent of the library’s $25 million budget pays for staff salaries and benefits. Heywood noted that through attrition and consolidation, TRL’s staffing has dropped from 310 in 2013 to 265 at its 29 locations.

Timberland recently updated its wireless infrastructure and launched a successful pilot project at McCleary in 2019 to provide patrons over 18 access to the library after regular hours, when staff members have gone. Four hundred people received key cards to enter and leave the library during off-hours. Cameras inside tracked all activities. Heywood said the extended access program will be expanded to a dozen or so other libraries.

She noted that Thurston County taxpayers support libraries in the smaller counties, which don’t raise enough tax dollars to cover expenses. Although TRL was created five decades ago, times change. That’s one reason the staff developed what proved to be a controversial Capital Facilities plan in 2018 that proposed closing buildings.

“We wanted a smaller physical footprint,” Heywood said, “because the buildings cost so much money to run, and we saw that the buildings were getting less and less use over the decades.”

When news broke of proposed closures, including the Mountain View Library in Randle, patrons protested. Since then, the board has proposed buying land near U.S. Highway 12 for a new library, which may be constructed within the next two years.

“I would love for Lewis County to see what a new 21st century public library building could look like,” Heywood said.

And it would be nice to see a TRL library in Toledo, too.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.