Families soon will see an end to several popular literacy programs, even though they're funded by private and nonprofit sources rather than county money.

The Jackson County Library Foundation must suspend its programs, including Storyteller @ Your Library, Babies in the Library and summer reading, when libraries close April 6, said Jim Olney, executive director for the foundation. The programs are funded with private donations and several grants that will be in limbo until voters decide in May if they want to approve a three-year levy to reopen libraries, he said.

The Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) will retain $20,000 it awarded the library foundation this month for a second year of Babies in the Library, which debuted in October. OCF is allowing the library foundation, however, to keep about $10,000 it won't spend on this year's program, which was funded through June, Olney said. If the libraries never reopen, the library foundation must return grant funds to OCF.

"We try desperately to work with private or public entities that are going through some significant change that's beyond their control," said Greg Chaillé, OCF president and chief operating officer.

The county's 15 library branches will close because of a $23 million budget shortfall created when Congress failed to renew federal timber subsidies last September. May's proposed levy would raise $8.3 million annually.

Because government funding has been cut over recent years, Olney said, the library foundation has assumed responsibility for putting new artwork, computers, collections and other frills into library branches. The foundation had a record year, securing about $50,000 compared with an average of $20,000 in previous years, Olney said. All new grant-writing, however, has been put on hold, he added.

"This is really the first time we sought grants for individual programs," Olney said.

Those grants produced programs like the one that brought professional storyteller Will Hornyak to Medford's Central Library Wednesday. Kids shimmied, hopped on one foot and recited a few Spanish phrases to help Hornyak act out the tale of a "very important chicken."

The library foundation spends about $11,000 annually to bring storytellers to library branches, with no contributions from the library's budget, Olney said. Between 50 and 100 children and adults typically attend, he added.

After three years of free, monthly performances, the last Storyteller session was bittersweet for 39-year-old Allison Frederick and her 8-year-old daughter, Gillian.

"It's really sad for us," Frederick said. "We're hoping it's temporary."

Although Chaillé said OCF isn't as concerned with a program's venue as its quality, the very core of library foundation activities is a setting that promotes literacy, Olney said. Even if the library foundation could find another site to host storytellers and Babies in the Library, its grants do not include funds to rent space, he added.

"At this point we have no options," Olney said.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

If you go

What: "Babies in the Library," the last infant-literacy session before Jackson County libraries close April 6. The free program is open to children not yet walking and parents.

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Monday

Where: Ashland branch library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

For more information or to register: Call Margie Cicerrella at 774-6564 or e-mail margicic@jcls.org.