Whatcom Magazine

Library foundation arose from battle with FBI

Whatcom County Library Foundation supports Books for Babies, a program that provides a free board book to every baby born in Whatcom County.
Whatcom County Library Foundation supports Books for Babies, a program that provides a free board book to every baby born in Whatcom County. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The story of the Whatcom County Library Foundation began with an FBI agent’s visit to Deming Library in 2004 seeking the names of people who had checked out a book about Osama Bin Laden.

Joan Airoldi, the library’s director, refused the request. A grand jury subpoena ensued, the library board filed a counter motion, and the FBI eventually dropped the subpoena.

As a result of her stand, Airoldi received a PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award. She gave the $25,000 prize to start the foundation, a nonprofit that serves Whatcom County’s libraries, bookmobile and online library.

“We are a mouthpiece and a champion of the library,” says Jennifer Rick, the foundation’s development director. “We need to keep libraries strong. They provide information, entertainment, access, and connection.”

Since the foundation’s start in 2005, it has given away more than $130,000. The foundation hopes to enlarge its endowment fund to $1 million, to sustain the foundation in perpetuity.

Foundation projects include Books for Babies,which provides a free board book to every baby born in the county, and the Juvenile Detention Center Book Club, which provides books to about 60 incarcerated youths to read and discuss each month.

Freedom of speech and individual privacy are cornerstones of libraries.

Jennifer Rick, foundation’s development director

The foundation also supports the Whatcom Reads! program, which encourages county residents to read and discuss the same book and to attend events with the author, and supports the “Issues That Matter” discussion series. A recent topic: “Baby Brain Development in a Digital World.”

Each year, the Whatcom County Library System makes a special request, and the foundation board provides $6,000 or more. Past funding has gone to such items as a laptop cart and digital screens for libraries.

Through its various programs, the foundation strives to reflect the values that sparked its creation.

“Freedom of speech and individual privacy are cornerstones of libraries,” Rick says. “They’re a place to go to learn and explore in safe and creative ways.”

Library Foundation

Details: 360-3600, ext. 208, and wcls.org/Foundation

Contact: Jennifer Rick, Jennifer.rick@wcls.org

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