It won’t be long before the library system as Douglas County has known it is gone for good. Whether that means the doors will be shuttered for good or the system is replaced by something new isn’t yet clear.
If there is a Plan B to keep some of the system’s 11 libraries going, it’s not been fully formed yet.
Right now, the best chance of maintaining even minimal library service may be for individual cities to take over their own libraries. However, some city officials say they have too little information to make even basic decisions about how that might be done and whether they want to do it.
The library system’s quandary stems from two tough financial realities. The county government is running out of money, and voters last week gave the thumbs down to a proposed library taxing district that would have kept the libraries fully operational.
The result is that the libraries may not be able to keep their doors open past the end of the fiscal year in June. In fact, major cuts to staff, branches and library hours are likely to happen before then, possibly as early as January.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice has scheduled two town hall meetings this month to gather input about the libraries’ future. He hopes to present basic information about some of the options, ranging from a complete shutdown of the system to a transfer of individual libraries to city governments.
Boice said he understands the need and desire for library services, but the county’s running out of money and it “simply cannot continue to fund it.”
The library isn’t the first department, and won’t be the last, to feel the effects of the county’s fiscal crisis, brought on by an end to federal timber payments. The county’s parks and solid waste departments were able to adjust to loss of county general funds by charging fees. In the future, county officials are likely to discuss possible cuts to programs ranging from the county’s museum department to its sheriff’s patrols.
Boice said he asked county staff for proposals based on three possibilities. One looks at how much it would cost to continue funding the library at its current level. One describes a ramp down to closure. And one details the cost of transitioning to city-run libraries.
County documents received by The News-Review indicate that the cheapest plan the county’s contemplating would reduce staff from the equivalent of 26.8 full-time positions to nine from January through June. The director’s position would be eliminated, the Roseburg branch would drop from 24 to 22 hours per week, seven branches would close and three branches would remain at 20 per week. All new book purchases would be eliminated, as would all programming events like story time.
A transition to city-run libraries would drop personnel to the equivalent of 16.8 full-time positions from January to June, in part by dropping full-time employees to 30 hours per week. Under this plan, the branches would all remain open for those six months, most at their current hours.
Boice said figuring out the library’s future will involve making tough decisions. He wants public input, he said, but would rather people offer solutions.
“We don’t get to make this decision based on emotions,” he said.
Save our Libraries PAC member Bob Heilman is feeling some emotions anyway, and one of those is anger. The PAC worked hard to research solutions and came to the conclusion that forming a library district was the only way to retain a decent library system.
“To just kind of pick up my shovel and head out to the field and start digging again, I don’t know if I have it in me even,” he said.
Heilman said the PAC members decided this week to continue as a group and do their best to mitigate the damage. The group’s long-term goal remains the same — to push for the adequate and sustainable library services they believe people here need.
Library supporters said lack of a library will mean decreased literacy and poorer prospects for school children. They said it will also discourage business development in an area whose economy is already hurting.
“We are living in the Appalachia of the West Coast and the closure of this library is not going to help that any,” Heilman said.
Still, Heilman said he thinks the group needs to take a back seat at this point, and let others figure out just how complex the problem is.
“I think it’s incumbent on those who claimed so strongly that they had a solution to present it,” Heilman said.
Library Foundation Chairwoman Deborah Millsap said she’s been disappointed by a lack of communication so far between library supporters and the county.
A lot of people, she said, are “waiting for some answers or a path forward.”
“Really what I think they should do is have a very clear and honest message, whatever the message is,” she said.
Boice acknowledged that privatization — an idea floated several times during the election season — doesn’t seem to be workable. Jackson County, for example, has a private organization run its libraries, but that company is paid by a library district that levies a tax slightly higher than the one Douglas County just rejected.
There’s always the chance of a last-minute Hail Mary. The Douglas Education Service District, for example, has toured the library building and considered whether it could afford to take on the library. Superintendent Michael Lasher said such a project would fit within the ESD’s educational mission, but he’s not sure if it’s possible.
That may leave the cities as the libraries’ last recourse. But the leaders of some of those cities have more questions than answers at this point.
Myrtle Creek Mayor Ken Brouillard said four of five city councilors there indicated at a Tuesday meeting they’re interested in rescuing their own library branch, but most said they needed more information before they could commit to the idea. Like all the cities except for Roseburg, Myrtle Creek owns its library building and pays for its upkeep. Personnel and materials have been provided by the county.
What Myrtle Creek doesn’t know is whether the county would give it the library’s computers and continue to provide the internet hookup and the I-T services to make them useful. The library has six computers now, and they always seem to be in use, he said. City leaders also want to know whether they could keep the books and whether inter-library loans could still be made. So far, he said, the city hasn’t received those answers from the county.
“I suspect that the city of Myrtle Creek will do something,” Brouillard said. “I don’t know what that’s going to be.”
Canyonville Mayor Jake Young said he’s not sure what will happen to his town’s library. So far, the city council there hasn’t made any decisions. They’re still waiting on the county to come to them with some kind of proposal.
Most cities don’t have enough money to run their own libraries, he said, and Canyonville’s no different.
“It looks pretty bleak,” he said.
Oakland, however, already has put forward a plan to run its own library. And in Roseburg, the tone is optimistic.
Newly-elected Roseburg City Councilor Brian Prawitz said he understands why library supporters are upset, but he hopes to get past the “finger-pointing phase” soon.
“Hopefully we can move past that phase quickly and realize we’re all on the same side now, instead of where we were before the election,” he said.
Mayor Larry Rich said the city “stands ready” to do its part once a plan is in place. He said at this point the city is waiting to find out what the county and the library supporters are able to work out. The city won’t make any specific decisions about the Roseburg branch’s future until the county puts forward a plan.
Rich predicts the cities will come together to form a new system.
“We’ll solve it,” he said. “We’ll get everybody together in a room, and we’ll get it done.”