The Douglas County Library System had 52 employees when Harold Hayes became its director in 2013. Thursday, it was down to 12 employees. Today it’s nine. Saturday, it will be zero.
For Hayes it’s a sad day, but the saddest was a month ago, when the Roseburg branch closed its doors to the public. Since then, a skeleton crew has remained, doing the work that must be done to close up the library. While it may reopen in a year or so under the city’s direction, its fate remains unclear. There’s no indication it will ever become the 11-branch, professionally run countywide system it was until this year.
During the long campaign for a library tax district, a plan that could have restored the library to its glory years but that went down in flames during the November election, Hayes was muzzled. Even afterward, he turned away The News-Review’s requests for interviews, saying he had been told not to talk to the press.
On Thursday, all that changed. And while he talked about his sadness and his hopes for his own future apart from Roseburg, Hayes also voiced his opinion about the political battle that was fought last year over the library’s future.
Hayes blames the Douglas County Board of Commissioners for the tax district’s failure. He said they not only didn’t support it, but actively campaigned against it. They represent a portion of the electorate that is anti-tax and they were not shy in denouncing the taxing district, he said. Without that support, he asserts, the district and the library were doomed.
“These figures of authority they were saying no. It’s pretty hard to fight against that,” he said.
The commissioners have said they were neutral on the measure and referred the measure to the voters to let them decide.
Hayes inherited a system that was already struggling with reduced staffing and hours, due to a shortage of county revenues. Still, he didn’t expect to find himself four years later in the unenviable position of overseeing the library’s demise.
It’s hard to imagine now, but four years ago Hayes was happy to be moving to Roseburg, returning to Oregon to work. He grew up in Columbia City in northwest Oregon, and loved the small-town life.
“It was very exciting to come back. My intention was to live here until I retired,” he said.
Hayes began his library career in the King County suburbs of Seattle. He had originally been a cartographer, but like most map makers he was out of a job once Computer Assisted Design (CAD) mapping software was created that could do the work. His wife Susan worked in libraries, and he decided to go into that field as well. He worked at libraries in Washington and Wyoming, and was in Richland, Washington, before taking on the 11-branch Douglas County system.
At 58, he can’t imagine not working, so instead he’s interviewing for library management jobs across the country. He doesn’t plan to stick around Roseburg to see if efforts to form a nonprofit, countywide hub are successful.
“I have bills I have to pay, just like everybody else, so I need to find a job in the near future, not in some prospective maybe future,” he said.
This weekend, he has an interview in Virginia. He’ll go where the jobs are, he said. In the meantime, not surprisingly, he plans to do a bit of reading. He just finished reading “Never Call Me a Hero,” by Laura and Timothy Orr and N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss, a first-person account of a bomber pilot who fought in the Battle of Midway in World War II.
He loves history, and calls science fiction his “brain candy.”
The death of the library system is a loss to the whole community, he said. Even for those who weren’t using the library it was there, available as a free resource should they need it one day. In an age of fake news and misinformation, a library offers real information from identifiable sources and trained professionals who can help people find the knowledge they seek, he said.
And of course it offers a place for children to learn to read. Those programs — the preschool, after-school and summer programs for young kids — Hayes was dedicated to providing down to the bitter end.
While the staff was mourning for the library in its final months, many members of the public were too.
“Literally every day members of the public were coming in expressing their grieving one way or another,” he said.
In the end, it’s the excellence of his staff and the positive engagement with the public that Hayes is proudest of as he looks toward a future without the Douglas County Library System.
“It’s just been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Douglas County,” he said.