The Douglas County Library System will lose its official state recognition as a library after the county’s board of commissioners holds two public hearings, the last of which was at this Wednesday’s commisioner’s meeting.
The outlying libraries of the system closed as county facilities on April 1. The Roseburg branch of the system is scheduled to close as a county library on May 31.
There was at least one thing Commissioner Gary Leif wanted to make clear Wednesday morning: the county’s libraries are not closing for good.
“The libraries are not going away,” he told the audience of about 50 people. “Please put that out of your head. The libraries are going to stay open, it’s just not going to be in the same manner. It’s up to volunteers in the cities right now to step up to the plate and make sure that happens.”
The hearings are mere formalities, Commissioner Tim Freeman said, since there will not be a resulting official decision. The county chose not to fully fund the library system for this fiscal year during last year’s budget meetings. Taxpayers voted last November against a taxing district that would have funded the system through property taxes. Without a funding source, the library system has run dry. To fill the void, a collection of reading rooms are being set up where people are not allowed to check out books.
Leif, who is the library liaison for the board, said people have asked him why there was not a “plan B” to funding the library system outside of the taxing district.
“Commissioner (Chris) Boice and I went to every meeting and told the library foundation, ‘What is your plan B?’” he said. “And they didn’t want to have a plan B.”
Boice was the liaison prior to January. He was absent from this public hearing.
Douglas County lost most of its general fund revenues as the timber harvest began to decline about two decades ago. Since then the federal government has provided safety net payments to rural counties. That funding, called Secure Rural Schools, is no longer in place.
Leif said the key to keeping the libraries funded is contacting federal lawmakers regarding timber harvests.
“There’s a fix to this,” he said. “You need to contact the federal legislators who have provided ideas and have forest management, timber management plans. We need a timber management plan to fund the library district.”
Buzzy Nielsen, the Crook County library director and president-elect of the Oregon Library Association, offered his support to Douglas County at the hearing. He said Douglas County is the fifth Oregon county to lose its library system. The others are Deschutes, Hood River, Josephine and Jackson counties. Three of those counties have since reopened their libraries. Nielsen helped reopen the Hood River County library system.
“It is not an easy task to reopen a library after it has been closed,” Nielsen said. “The thing that has helped them the most is what you are doing now: retaining the assets in place, including the collections, furniture and equipment.”
Leif said the county is not going to give away its books, nor is it going to sell them. They will remain intact until there is a solution to managing them as library collections. Right now each community is responsible for maintaining its own library. Ten library branches are in buildings owned by their respective towns. The county owns the Roseburg branch, which is the only one that has not officially shut down from county management.
Although the libraries have technically disbanded from the county system, many have opened as reading rooms managed by a team of volunteers.
The county formed a 19-member library task force earlier this year. It is made up of representatives from each city and of people with different interests related to the library. The group meets weekly on Fridays with a goal of finding a stable source of funding for the county’s libraries. It has considered a few options, including hiring a private management company or partnering with the Douglas Education Service District.