It has been a few months since the Dayton Library made international news. The library was saved by the Neighbors United For Progress (NUP), headed up by Elise Severe. NUP prevented a fringe extremist group with ties to Mom’s For Liberty from closing the Dayton Library, which is the only library serving Columbia County. 

Recently, the Washington State Library Association (WLA) awarded Severe and NUP the Candace Morgan Intellectual Freedom Award.Elise Severe wrote a letter in response to the award:

Neighbors United for Progress (NUP) was selected by the Washington Library Association to receive the Candace Morgan Freedom of Information award. Not having a background in the library world, I was happy to see that there was a brief description: The award recognizes an individual or group for their efforts to defend, champion, support, and/or educate others about Intellectual Freedom in Washington State. I’ll be honest — I read this paragraph over and over trying to get it to sink in. 
Who is Candace Morgan and what did she do? Candace Morgan was a force to recon with. She advocated for transparency and everyone’s right to information. Those who have received this award fought hard for access to information and ideas.  
In September of 2023, Neighbors United went to court in hopes to stop a petition to dissolve our rural public library. If [the petition] had been successful, it would have been the first library in our nation to have been dissolved by the voters. This quickly gained traction throughout the nation because of the chance a community would lose its freedom to information due to a small group with extremist world views. We won that fight; we kept our library open to the public, where anyone could access information and ideas. NUP took a stand against those that would willingly take away our basic freedoms in an effort to erase information on LGBTQ, anti-racism, and sexuality.  
The fight for our library is not over. The small group that NUP stopped tearing down our library is now attacking from a different angle through our local City Council. They are pushing the council members to put forth a ballot measure asking voters if they wish to remain in the current library district or if they wish to be un-annexed, thus removing the city tax dollars and the majority of voters from the current rural library district. They have taken a divide and conquer approach which then would leave the rural library district of just over 1,000 voters who could then be petitioned and vote to dissolve the district all over again.  
Currently, NUP is supporting SB 5824 through the ranks of state government in the hopes to change an antiquated law now allowing all taxpayers a vote on library measures, and raising the petition signature requirement from 10% to 25%.  
Being recognized for this award is a truly amazing feeling. To us in Dayton, Washington — we were fighting to keep our library doors open, when in reality, we were fighting for every library and everyone’s freedom to information. Libraries are an important institution where they protect our First Amendment rights and serve the underserved. To say that we are proud of this recognition is putting it lightly.  

The Washington State Legislature is working to pass into law a bill 

(SB 5824) that recently the Senate voted unanimously to pass. It is now moving through the House. 

The bill addresses the state law dating from 1947 that made it incredibly easy for the library opponents to attempt to close it down. As Elise Severe says in her letter, opponents of the library only had to get 10% of residents in unincorporated Columbia County to sign on to the petition in order to dissolve the library. Also, the law allowed only rural residents to vote on the issue, even though residents of the city of Dayton pay taxes to fund it. 

Senate Bill 5824 would require signatures of 25% of residents to sign on for the petition to move to the ballot, and all residents who pay taxes for the library would get a say. 

After the House (hopefully) passes the bill, it will move on to Governor Jay Inslee to be signed into law. 

For context about the Dayton Library, read Dori’s previous articles: “Fringe extremist group fails to shutter Dayton library” and “Moms for Liberty: Meet the far-right group spreading its message of ‘liberty for some’ across the country — even in Washington state”.

A lifelong resident of Eastern Washington, Dori enjoys the outdoors, her family, and making good trouble. She has worked for many years in broadcasting and reporting and believes in the value of the 4th estate. She is a true community advocate that loves Washington.