MYRTLE CREEK — The Myrtle Creek branch of the Douglas County Library System closed its doors Thursday.
In its final hours, library patrons read and talked, used the computers and collected books, as a documentary film crew from San Francisco’s Serendipity Films moved around them, gathering stories for a film on the history of the American public library and the challenges those libraries face today.
And the challenges in Myrtle Creek and Douglas County are very, very real. The county government, strapped for cash, announced it would be unable to fund the county libraries through the end of the year. A November ballot measure that would have created a library district tax to keep the libraries opened was rejected by voters. Subsequently, the closure dates were announced — April 1 for the 10 rural branches and May 31 for the main branch in Roseburg. A task force has been convened to seek a long-term funding solution.
Meanwhile, library boards, city councilors and a host of book-loving volunteers are scrambling to fill the breach in Myrtle Creek and other cities around the county.
There’s been a library in Myrtle Creek in some form for 105 years, and quite a few town residents say they have no intention of giving it up. Already, 35 volunteers have signed up to work shifts at the library and they plan to reopen it on July 1.
On Thursday, the prevailing mood at the library was sadness.
Karen Rivera, mother of 12-year-old Jaime Rivera, wiped away tears as she talked about what the loss meant to her and her daughter. It was hard enough adjusting to a small library open only part-time after they moved here from Salt Lake City a couple years ago. She and Jaime were reading the book “Zillah and Me” together Thursday. They’ve been reading together since Jaime was born.
“I’m really bummed,” Karen Rivera said. “The library offered a way for us to get together, to feed our minds. We’ve always been a poor family, and being able to go to the library programs has given our family something to do for free.”
“Being able to borrow books from the library to gain information, that was awesome,” Jaime said. “Now this is going to be ripped away from us, and it sucks.”
This wasn’t Marilyn Brouillard’s first rodeo, though. Brouillard, longtime volunteer and incidentally the mayor’s wife, lived in Redding, California, almost 30 years ago when the Shasta County Library System closed down.
Back then, her son checked out a collection of books beginning with the words “The Last.” On Thursday, Brouillard copied his example.
She checked out 10 books with titles like “The Last Star,” “The Last Sin Eater,” “The Last Battle,” and “The Last Apocalypse.”
She doesn’t know if she’ll get to read them all before the final book return date of April 25.
“I just never thought I’d go through this a second time,” she said.
She said she’s impressed, though, by the number of people who have signed up to volunteer.
Myrtle Creek Librarian Hannah Merrill is out of a job, but said she tried her best to make the library’s last day a happy one for the people who love it. She said she plans to return to school to get an English degree, and would like to become a fiction editor.
“I’ve always had a love for books,” she said.
Connie Earp wondered where the children would go. The library is a source of knowledge for them, she said, and she loves watching their little faces light up during story time.
To have that disappear, she said, “it’s just the saddest thing.”
Five-year-old Jameson Bury clutched a book about dinosaurs as his mother wondered what they’d do until the library reopened with an all-volunteer staff in July. His mother said she visits the library every week with Jameson and his little brother.
“I can’t read library books for story time any more,” Jameson said. Asked if that made him feel sad, he nodded.
“I’m really depressed about it,” Melissa Bury said. “They’ve grown up with this library. It’s someplace we really love to come.”