OYAN Review: The Uncertain Future of Douglas County Libraries

This post is an article from the Winter 2017 issue of the OYAN Review and has been edited slightly for publication on the blog. It was written by Violeta Garza of the Multnomah County Library.

Federal timber payments are drying up in Southern Oregon, and libraries are being hit hard. In 2007, this conflict was brought to national attention when voters in Jackson County failed to pass a funding levy, which resulted in all libraries closing for six months. They were able to provide services to patrons by operating with severely restricted hours under the management of a nonprofit. In 2014, voters approved a library district, and Jackson County was able to resume normal library operations.

Marilyn Woodrich speaks at a kickoff for a campaign aimed at saving the Douglas County Library System in RosebergDouglas County is the now facing this economic crisis. Comprising an area of over 5,000 square miles which span the coast to the Cascades and serving 100,000 people, Douglas County has already made deep cuts in many county services to deal with this loss of revenue, and the library is the newest casualty. The Douglas County Library System is slated to close ten of its eleven branches on April 1st and the main branch in Roseburg on May 30th. This is a result of voters rejecting a permanent taxing district last November, which would have helped make up the shortfall from the loss of federal timber payments. The reasons that voters cited for rejecting the measure are familiar: they don’t see the value of libraries, many are against a permanent tax, some believed there was an alternate source for funding, or there was a worry that passing this measure would reduce funding for other services. Whatever reasons voters had, 55% voted against the funding district.

The future of the library is uncertain. Right now the best chance to maintain services is for city governments to take over the administration of their libraries, but there is no clear plan for that to happen. At this point, Roseburg and Myrtle Creek are the only municipalities that have expressed an interest in taking over the funding and management of their local libraries. As city funding for libraries could be hard to come by, the best case scenario involves reduced hours and services with a heavy reliance on volunteers for day- to-day operations. However, it appears almost definite that all branches will close entirely for at least a short period of time until a solid plan is ready to be implemented.

We welcome all your comments, articles, photos, book reviews, ideas, and suggestions for future OYAN Review newsletters! Please submit to oyanpublications@gmail.com.