Over the past few weeks, the Douglas County Library Futures Task Force has been considering possibilities. It’s heard proposals from various groups, including the Douglas Education Service District, which offered some services in exchange for the chance to relocate to the main library building in Roseburg, and Library Systems and Services, a private for-profit company that said it could manage the library system with two employees and lots of volunteers.
On Friday, Harney County Library Director Cheryl Hancock joined the task force’s weekly meeting by teleconference to explain how her library works with local schools.
First, she provided some background. Harney is the largest county in the state by geographic area but has just one library branch, which is located in Burns. It’s open Monday through Saturday and operates 43 hours per week. The library pays $9,200 per year to join the Sage Consortium, a group of libraries in 15 Eastern and Central Oregon counties. Sage provides it with courier and catalog services.
Harney County receives property taxes of $4.50 per $1,000 in property value — about four times the amount that Douglas County government receives. The Harney County Library has an annual budget around $300,000, with about $60,000 of that coming from the library foundation and the rest from the Harney County government’s general fund, so it’s not in the dire financial straits the Douglas County Library System faces. Hancock said she’s sorry about Douglas County’s situation.
“I wish I had an answer for you, I really do, but I can tell you what we do, I can tell you what we have done, and I hope there might be a glimmer in there for you,” she said.
The Harney County Library created a strategic plan, beginning by surveying the county’s residents. It found a need for more service to rural patrons, and that schools are often a gathering place for rural county residents. It hopes to expand service to those areas in coming years.
Local schools were struggling to keep their libraries open, with minimal or volunteer staff, and the Harney Education Service District, which serves nine of the county’s 10 rural school districts, had a great library that had been closed for a couple of years. So the county library stepped in. It successfully applied for grants to make resources of both the county and the school libraries available to all K-8 students, saving the problem of the high school library (also closed) for another time. It made the elementary, middle school and ESD libraries members of Sage, bar-coded the books and supplied Project Cool (Connecting Our Own Libraries) library cards to all the students. The middle school has a new library employee, and the county library hired an employee to manage the Cool project. Now, all the students can check out books from any Sage library.
Hancock said she hopes soon that ESD will be able to deliver books to students in the nine rural districts.
The task force is about halfway through the first of its duties, Douglas County Commissioner Gary Leif said Friday.
“This is the easy work, OK, as we look at all our options. Once we get those options done, the hard part’s going to come,” Leif said.
That hard part is working toward a solution for the governance and funding of the library. Once the task force settles on an idea or at least on Plans A, B and C, Portland State University’s Oregon Solutions program will help the task force figure out how to implement that solution.
Task force members have previously agreed they want a countywide library system but have not yet determined what that would look like. A subcommittee meeting after the main task force meeting Friday identified several possibilities. One possibility would be a special district that encompasses the entire county but has no tax base.
Another possibility is a non-contiguous district that could include the cities but not the surrounding rural areas. Even if a district passed with zero taxes, the district’s board could later seek voter approval for a tax levy. The earliest a district could be placed on the ballot would be in November. Other options identified Friday included having a nonprofit organization run the district, and passing a temporary levy.
No matter what decisions the task force ultimately makes, the short-range plan is that the county will no longer fund or operate the libraries. The smaller branches have already either closed or transitioned to volunteer-run reading rooms. Sutherlin, Oakland and Reedsport have each signed an intergovernmental agreement with the county to operate their own libraries. Amy Jensen, Riddle’s task force representative, said the city government there has also signed its IGA, but Leif said the county hasn’t received it yet.
The Roseburg branch is slated to close at the end of May, with library staff remaining until the end of June to manage the collection. Leif said even if cities haven’t yet worked out what they want to do, the county plans to leave its books at each branch unless a city requests their removal.