OLYMPIA — A bill to protect libraries was signed into law Tuesday.  

In 2023, petitioners in Columbia County gathered enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot to dissolve the Columbia County Rural Library District in Dayton. State statute required they collect signatures from at least 10% of residents who live in unincorporated Columbia County.  

Even though the library district serves all Columbia County residents, state statute would have only allowed people living in unincorporated parts of the county to vote on the library’s future, despite city of Dayton residents paying taxes to fund the library too. That would have excluded two-thirds of the county’s residents, according to reporting from the Seattle Times. 

The effort was ultimately stopped by a Columbia County court before the measure appeared on the ballot.   

Senate Bill 5824, sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) and requested by Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, requires petitioners to collect signatures from 25% of eligible voters in the district. The bill also allows all qualified voters of a library district to vote when a measure to dissolve a library is on the ballot.  

“The Dayton library was on the verge of becoming the first library in the country to shut down because of a dispute over the books inside,” Hunt said. “We’re just trying to give all people a fair say in what happens to their library and not let minority rule.”  

“5824 is the right move to make sure a single group or a small group of individuals cannot come in and simply dissolve a library in a community that is such a major resource for so many,” said Carolyn Logue, representing the Washington Library Association, during public testimony. “That community center, that community resource needs to be maintained, and to remove it should be something that is very much a democratic decision made by more people than what is currently in the statute.” 

The legislation goes into effect June 6, 2024.