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From left, commissioners Tim Freemand and Gary Leif discuss the county library system in a public hearing Wednesday morning. It was the first of two hearings the county has to hold before fully dismantling its system.

APRIL EHRLICH/The News-Review/

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.

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(3) comments

PickNGrin

"Leif said the key to keeping the libraries funded is contacting federal lawmakers regarding timber harvests." LOL! In a letter dated 24 Feb, US Senator Jeff Merkley told me, "As you my know, these issues fall largely under county and state rather than federal, jurisdiction. Consequently, I encourage you to contact your local elected officials bout this particular matter." What a run-around! Wouldn't it be nice if they all could work together to show leadership, take responsibility, and propose creative solutions?

garyleif

You are "not" getting the run-around from me or the other County Commissioners. What you are getting is the run-around from our Federal Legislators who refuse to take responsibility for the land they own/control in Douglas County. 52% of the land in Douglas County is owned and controlled by the Feds. If we had the control as suggested, then this would be a mute point and we would be Thinning, doing Fire Setback logging, Fire Resiliency and more. But because we don't "control" this land, we have zero say on the federal lands from BLM and FS. I, We, would love to work together, but at this time it's all one sided and that side does "not" see their responsibility to help us out. So now we have no choice but to charge for Parks, Landfills, permits, etc. and close non-mandated programs like the Library. The Feds can still get direction from these legislators, but we will have to wait and see if they will step up to the plate!

PickNGrin

Here's a link to a 23-min movie that captures County Commissioner introductory remarks and responses to public. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqNlxKlxBEE You might find this helpful to understand the history of the situation, what's been done to date, and what the commissioners are thinking about in the future. After 90 minutes of testimony, they replied to only a few public concerns and ideas about communications, task force, funding, marijuana initiative, computers, travel, parks, OHV area and more. Audio of the entire Public Hearing is at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/101784974 Library Futures Task Force continues to meet weekly at 10 am at the main branch.

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