An outpouring of emotions from library supporters resonated in the Jackson County Courthouse Wednesday as commissioners listened to pleas urging them not to shut down all 15 community branches this spring.

"I believe our library is the cultural heart of our community," said Jacksonville resident John Allman. "No one should bring up children without surrounding them with books."

About 50 residents, from children to the elderly, spoke during an almost three-hour public hearing.

"I'm here to speak for the children," said Medford resident Katherine Leppek, a comment that drew an "amen" from one audience member. "Do not take the road of least resistance. The answer is out there."

Medford resident Aubyn Heglie, 10, said, "I know that most of us love our libraries."

The 15-branch library system is scheduled to close April 6 after Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act that pumped $23 million into county coffers annually. Voters also rejected a levy last November that would have paid for libraries if the federal money was lost.

Commissioners are expected to make a decision in mid-February on possible steps to keep libraries open. Some of the options include a levy, an income tax, a gas tax or a consortium of cities interested in keeping their libraries open.

During a rally before the hearing in Alba Park, about 300 supporters carried signs proclaiming, "Don't starve the bookworms," "Books not Bombs," or "A book is a terrible thing to waste."

Ashland resident Victoria McOmie, who carried a sign critical of commissioners Jack Walker and C.W. Smith, said, "It's really embarrassing to close our libraries."

A few speakers said library supporters should press federal officials to allow more logging to boost the local economy, or look for other ways to find money other than taxing local residents.

Jacksonville resident Richard Goble said, "I don't use the library. I don't need it."

He said if residents want the libraries they should be set up like a toll road so people pay as they go.

Goble thought too much attention was being placed on libraries and not enough on public safety. "The libraries should be at the bottom, not at the top," he said.

Medford resident Judith Corbin said she thought libraries were one of the most important assets in the county and one reason she chose to move here.

She said she can't believe that the county is even considering closing them.

"It reminds me of book burning," she said. "You commissioners should be ashamed."

Commissioner C. W. Smith cautioned her, "Don't make this personal."

Medford resident Erin Brender told commissioners that her 11-month-old son, Sulayman Rizvi, participates in a babies program at the library to encourage reading among the young. She cited studies that children who learn to read at an early age do better in education.

"They have much to lose with no library available," she said.

Brender led the audience in singing the popular children's tune, "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

Ashland resident Josh Gordon said he wanted to dispel the myth that libraries aren't needed because of the Internet. "It's absolutely not true."

He said some reference questions can be answered through the Internet, but books and computers are not available to all citizens.

"There is a growing divide of the haves and have-nots," said Gordon.

Medford resident Becky Kleinhesselink said every Medford school used to have a librarian; now none do. Closing the libraries will be another blow to the educational system locally, she said.

"I will be so ashamed of Medford if we don't have a public library," she said.

Talent resident A.J. Wright said he's had library cards from three different states during the past 80 years.

He said that as a taxpayer he expects libraries to stay open, and can't believe they might be closed.

"It's a great tragedy for not only the individual, but Jackson County," he said.

Applegate resident Chris Shockey, who homeschools his family, said he checked out 1,176 items from the library last year. He estimated that without libraries, it would cost $7,000 to homeschool a family.

"This is really going to hurt us," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or