Judge temporarily blocks ballot proposition to dissolve a rural library in southeastern Washington

By Courtney Flatt (Northwest News Network)
Sept. 11, 2023 5:49 p.m.

A measure to dissolve the Columbia County Rural Library District in southeastern Washington has been temporarily blocked from the Nov. 7 ballot.

Superior Court Judge Julie Karl ruled the proposition that would shut down the county’s only library is invalid. The temporary restraining order she issued will block the measure from the ballot and prevent officials from printing ballots for 14 days.

Young adult books at the Columbia County Library. Some people have requested to move the YA section into the adult section because of what they call "obscene" material in 100 of the around 800 books.

Young adult books at the Columbia County Library. Some people have requested to move the YA section into the adult section because of what they call "obscene" material in 100 of the around 800 books.

Courtney Flatt / Northwest News Network

The clock is ticking. According to the county auditor, the first ballots are supposed to be mailed to military and overseas voters Sept. 23.

Proposition 2 aims to dissolve the Columbia County Library in Dayton, Washington. The plaintiffs, including the local political action committee Neighbors United for Progress, filed a lawsuit and said the measure would cause voters irreparable harm if it was placed on the ballot.

Last year, several people asked to move or take out books they say are pornographic or obscene. When that didn’t happen, they gathered signatures to dissolve the rural library district, based in Dayton.


If Proposition 2 succeeds, librarians said this would be the first public library district in the country to be dissolved following a book challenge.

In a news release posted to Facebook, Jessica Ruffcorn, who supports the rural library district dissolution and is a defendant in the lawsuit, said no one requested to ban any books, only relocate them to areas that they said were more appropriate than the young adult section.

In recent weeks, the library moved the young adult nonfiction section into the adult fiction section. Librarians also said they’d allow parents to add permissions to their children’s library cards. For example, if a parent only wanted children to checkout required reading for school, a note could be added to the child’s account.

This week, library staff announced they’d moved the “parenting section” to a larger bookcase that includes the “first conversations'' section, which includes books on puberty, consent, bodies and sex education. In a Facebook post, they also said they set up bright green soft room dividers around the young adult section “both muffle sound, in case someone is trying to study while there are young children playing, and to clearly mark where the young adult section is.”

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Ric Jacobs, said in an earlier interview that there is no evidence children have ever checked out the books in question.

If the library district is dissolved, librarians and attorneys said all of the materials will go to the state and the building will return to the City of Dayton, which library supporters said previously had trouble funding upkeep and maintenance on the historic building.

If the measure does make it into the November ballot, people who live in the city aren’t allowed to vote on it.

As part of the temporary restraining order, Karl ruled the proposition gave too much power to people in unincorporated parts of Columbia County. Karl also agreed with the plaintiffs, saying the state law is inconsistent. She said that means the petition process and upcoming vote are invalid. She said there is “substantial evidence” of fraud regarding the petition signatures that library opponents collected.

Another court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 20.