A Rare and Wonderful Library Faces Disruption

It's a small independent library, keeper of a unique and valuable collection of books and manuscripts on an issue of great regional significance, an issue that we should all care about.   And like many other libraries connected with streaming, it's a library facing the prospect of major disruption.

The library is the Streamnet Library.   And its collection is largely devoted to fish, salmon in particular.

Streamnet, in Portland, OR, has a collection of more than 80,000 physical and digital items that relate to the health of salmon in the Northwest, including many hard to find "grey" items, such as consultant's reports and official documents.  It is a vital source of information for fish biologists and fishery management agencies.  And it is an important resource for tribal members concerned with preserving a way of life and cultural tradition in which salmon play an important part.

Surprisingly, in a world where good environmental news seems scarce, the recent overall trend for the Northwest salmon population has been encouraging.  The past 25 years have seen an upward trend in the total number of salmon swimming upstream.  Unfortunately, the past two years experienced sudden and surprising dips.  In the most recent spring spawning season, experts had expected that 180,000 salmon would pass a key dam system in Oregon's Columbia River.  Well less than half that amount actually came.

We recently spoke with David Liberty, an archeologist, hunter, fisherman and TV show host who is also the assistant director of the Streamnet Library.  Liberty explained that experts aren't quite sure why the salmon population showed its sharp recent drop.

"The mystery of the Pacific Ocean is what people blame it on," Liberty said.  "They don't really know what happens in the ocean."   For Liberty, the connection with salmon runs deep.  He is a member of the Umatilla tribe and grew up fishing on the Umatilla River, a Columbia River tributary (that is now rich in salmon due to tribal fish management).  He was a salmon activist first, and a librarian second, and is blunt, politically outspoken, and committed. This year was the first time in memory when he didn't fish.  "If there's not many salmon in the river, I don't want to take any out," he said.  "I want them all to go up river and spawn."

While the sudden disappearance of so many salmon would seem to underscore the importance of Streamnet Libary's mission, the "small library with a big heart" is now facing disruption in the form of an uncertain funding future.

For close to a decade, Streamnet's funding has come from the Bonneville Power Authority, a federal agency that operates the huge dams on the mighty Pacific Northwest rivers.  Funding flows from the Authority through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife program and is administered by the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

And there's politics involved.  The original funding agreement was based on a memo of understanding in which three of the four major tribal groups agreed not to bring any action against the Authority's dams.   The dams on the Columbia, the Snake and other Northwestern rivers are controversial -- it's been established that many salmon are killed both on the upstream and downstream journey, but there's a disagreement about the extent of the harm.  Environmentalists and tribal leaders argue that some or all of the dams should be dismantled.

With the political memo about to expire, Liberty expresses concern about Streamnet Library's future.   While it looks fairly likely that the library can make its budget with support from tribal funds and private trusts, he isn't looking forward to the grind of the annual scramble for funding.

In the meantime, the Streamnet Library is casting about for a new name.   Liberty insists that it has nothing to do with people confusing Streamnet for Netflix or Hulu.   Rather, Streamnet Libary doesn't accurately reflect the library's core mission and identity.   A shout out to the library's followers in a recent blog post didn't produce any great ideas.  All suggestions continue to be welcome.


David Liberty, Streamnet

David Liberty, Streamnet