Library Board halts implementation of logo and name change; questions remain about SPL leadership’s 'anti-book' policies

In an unusually well-attended board meeting Wednesday evening, the Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to halt implementation of the proposed logo and name change last night. This stops the proposed implementation of the brand and name change, which would have cost $570,000 over the next two years. However, it was unclear — both to the audience, and it seemed to the board itself — what exactly the implications of this vote might be on the work already generated by the rebranding process.

Six members of the public signed up to give comment. All spoke passionately against the rebranding. Don Glickstein, former VP of Friends of the Library, pointed to graphic and typographic flaws with the proposed logo: "We can achieve our goals of attracting nonusers in more direct and effective ways."

Another commenter, Mary Jo Porter said "It's such a ridiculous idea that I couldn't think of anything cogent to say about it…. It's going to kill you in future campaigns for money."

Laura Kaufman pointed out that the one-hundred-year archive of the Seattle PI's card catalog is sitting in a warehouse on Queen Anne, and should be made accessible through the library, as an example of a better use of funds.

Before the vote, the board took a few minutes to speak on the proposal. Dan Dixon said the branding campaign was an effort to explore "how do we continue to operate in the digital age that makes it meaningful to millennials?" He thanked (and thanked and thanked) the public for the feedback and "the remarkable affection you have for the library."

Tré Maxie started his comments by quoting Percy Shelley, whose work was part of the original collection of Sarah Yesler when she became the first City Librarian. He expressed frustration that "what this board has been working on for almost two years has been reduced to 'we just need to change our name and our logo.'"

He said: "I sit here conflicted about what I am going to do when the chair calls for the vote. I do appreciate we do have a city that largely loves the library. …the library represents one of the last institutions where anybody can walk in."

Marie McCaffrey commented that "All of us walk through these doors because we love books. We want this library to be one of the most important institutions in the city."

Board president Theresa Fujiwara: "We've listened to experts, we've listened to staff, we've listened to Friends of the Library. We've heard loud and clear from the public. I want to express my appreciation for the deep level of engagement."

Dixon made the motion on the rebranding effort in two parts:

  1. The Library will not move forward with the rebranding effort involving the name change and new logo.
  2. The board will ask staff to come forward and help the board find out what the community is saying to better utilize the product of the rebranding effort.

The movement was seconded by board Vice President Kristi England.

Then, Maxie moved to amend the original proposal to say that "the Library not move forward with the name change and new logo". There was some discussion where it seemed Dixon was attempting to point out that his language already spoke to Maxie's concerns, but Maxie was unswayed. He said the board needed to "eliminate any subjectiveness about what this board is doing here tonight."

His motion was seconded by McCaffrey. After a joke from Maxie that he'd be the only vote on his amendment, it split the board until Fujiwara threw the deciding vote to Maxie.

The amended motion was then put before the board and passed, thus halting progress on the rebranding implementation.

What now? The way the board voted can be read in two ways. Generously? They were concerned that the work product of the rebranding effort — which they thought the public misunderstood as only a logo and renaming — would be lost and inaccessible for future work.

Or, less generously: since the logo and name change were what the public fixated on, offering them as sacrificial lambs would leave the rest of the work unchanged, and City Librarian Marcellus Turner can continue with his policy changes largely unimpeded. In other words, the part of the rebranding that is the most fundamental to him.

It is the board's responsibility to articulate the need for projects that require so much capital. Their frustration with the public's misperception of the issue stems from their unclear guidance on this issue.

Last night contained no aspect of censure or introspection about the policies that led them to where they are. While stopping the logo was important in order to not throw good money after bad, we have always been clear that the problem here was not the rebranding itself. The problem is communication, a drive to change the fundamental meaning of what our library is to its community, and that library leadership is still "anti-book”. There was no sense, on that front, that the board heard the public at all.