At the Library: We’re one community, despite what we think may divide us

A few months ago, the Palouse Regional Housing Assessment was published by the Partnership for Economic Prosperity ( Housing is an enormously important issue, and the report has one big, overall conclusion — we need more affordable single-family housing options and there are several reasons that housing is not currently being built.

As I am not a housing expert, that conclusion isn’t what struck me as I read through the report and looked at all the pretty charts and numbers. My largest takeaway was that all of our communities are connected, all across the Palouse. So what happens in each community, large or small, directly affects every other community in the region.

Take, for example, the number of people moving from Washington to Idaho, or vice versa. In 2016, 379 Whitman County residents moved to Latah County, which sounds like a substantial number to me, but it turns out 493 Latah County residents moved to Whitman County in the same year.

More numbers: 44 percent of those who work in Pullman also live in Pullman, and 49 percent of those who work in Moscow live in Moscow. About three times as many people commute daily from Moscow to Pullman than vice versa. More than 350 people who live in Colfax work in Pullman, just about the same number as Palouse and Albion combined. And just outside the Palouse region, more than 800 Lewiston or Clarkston residents work in either Pullman or Moscow.

All of these number begin to make it feel like a game, and many want to keep “score.”

Who’s winning? Who’s losing?

We’re often conditioned to think in that way. But my point is that between all the moving and intermingling of people and families, there really aren’t winners and losers. We’re one region and one community, more than 70 miles from the nearest large city.

By the way, just about 500 Spokane and Spokane Valley residents work in Pullman, while 200 Coeur d’Alene residents work in Moscow. I, for one, am glad not to have that commute.

What does any of this have to do with libraries? Well, public libraries on the Palouse figured all of this out long ago, long before I came to town.

Unlike many other regions, residents of one Palouse community can get a public library card at essentially every other public library in the area, for free. Latah County residents can get library cards at Neill Public Library in Pullman, while Pullman residents are eligible for Latah County Library District cards. The same goes for Whitman County residents.

This makes tons of sense — if you’re commuting from one community to another, it may well be much easier to use the library where you work rather than where you live. Or you use both. Or you have family and friends spread across multiple Palouse communities, and it’s just easier to use whichever library is closest at the time.

Of course, libraries don’t have a monopoly on regional cooperation.

The Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee and Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport are just two examples of our region working together to provide much-needed benefits and long-range planning.

There are many others, and their work is impressive. It turns out all of our communities on the Palouse are deeply connected, and I’m glad our libraries reflect that essential fact.

Dan Owens is the adult services librarian at Neill Public Library.

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