Once upon a time, we were so dedicated to improving our community that we as a county banded together to form a single library system. It was well funded and fully staffed by professional librarians. The branches were open often enough that people could visit them regularly. And a beautiful new library was built to house the Roseburg branch, in part thanks to generous donations from the Ford family.

It was emblematic of a time when we looked forward, planned for the future, invested in our kids, valued learning.

It’s a good story, yes? But it may turn out to have a very unhappy ending. The voters’ rejection of a library district this month, we may well be facing the demise of the Douglas County Library System.

Since you are reading this editorial right now, we assume you are generally in favor of literacy.

Maybe you don’t believe the additional tax was really too much to ask to give our kids the opportunity to love reading and develop the skills essential for their future success in the Information Age. Perhaps you agree that it wasn’t too high a price tag for giving people who can’t afford their own computers or Internet service a chance to be competitive in the job market. Maybe you knew that access gave some people the ability to create their resumes and read the emails of prospective employers. You, like us, are probably aware that a thriving library system signals to businesses, medical professionals and others thinking of locating here that we are a desirable community and not, as one library supporter put it, the Appalachia of the West Coast.

We get that the county government is in dire straits. Bereft of timber funding, we truly can’t afford to continue the library service.

The right choice was to approve a library district and ask each property owner to pay a little bit toward having a thriving library system. But our community has made its choice. Now it’s incumbent upon all of us to do whatever we can to salvage our libraries. If we don’t get involved now, we will probably lose them.

So what can you do? Volunteer to keep your libraries open longer hours. If you voted for the library district, please consider donating the money you would have spent on the library if it had passed. Encourage your city to take over its library branch and pledge to support its efforts.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking that the cities will be able to replace the system we have now, let alone the fully-funded system we had a decade ago. Even in the best case scenario, it’s likely the libraries of our future will be run without professional librarians, full-time hours or much money for acquiring new books. But at this point, it must be said that any libraries are better than none at all.

The county is holding two town hall meetings about the future of the libraries. One is at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday, and the other is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29. Both are at the Ford Room of the Douglas County Library’s Roseburg branch, 1409 N.E. Diamond Lake Blvd. We hope you will be there.

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