Choked with emotion, Carole Mercer carefully removed embroidered jeans and tennis shoes Thursday from a memorial for her daughter in the Eagle Point Library.
"I cannot bear to leave my daughter's memory in a closed library," said Mercer, who donated $100,000 to help build the two-year-old branch. "I'm really trying hard not to be bitter and caustic about this."
Mercer's 20-year-old daughter, Sarah Ann, died after she was hit by a car in 1997. Mercer removed a portrait of Sarah that hung on the library walls. She will take all these memories home for safekeeping.
Like many Jackson County residents, Mercer, who says she attempted suicide after the death of her daughter, is having a difficult time confronting the reality of life without libraries.
"Who would have guessed that 15 libraries would have their doors of enlightenment and knowledge shut in the faces of the public who so needs them and uses them," said Mercer in front of library supporters and the media.
All 15 branches will close their doors indefinitely at the end of the day today, an occasion that will be marked by a parade in Eagle Point, a "Mad Tea Party" in Ashland, a closing ceremony in Medford.
Jackson County commissioners decided to close libraries after Congress failed to renew a federal timber safety net program that pumped $23 million into the county annually. Public safety and roads will also see cutbacks.
Library use already has dropped off as patrons faced limits on the number of books they could check out.
As Mercer packed up her daughter's memorial, two dozen youngsters filed through the door to attend the popular Storytime — the last before the branch closes.
Alice Berger, past president of the Friends of the Library in Eagle Point, said 900 kids had signed up for the reading program last summer, which she said represents a good majority of the children in town.
"The program does so much for the kids," she said.
Eagle Point resident Ashley Ohlwiler brought her 2-year-old daughter, Tara, who listened intently while a librarian read to her.
"It's devastating," said Ohlwiler.
While Ohlwiler also reads to her daughter, she said it helps to have another adult read stories to keep Tara interested in books.
"I'm going to have to wait until she's in preschool," she said.
Rose Malone, who brought her 5-year-old grandson, Jarrett, to Storytime, said, "It's sad that this is being done."
But Malone said she is reluctant to vote for a three-year levy on May 15 that would give $8.3 million annually to reopen the libraries.
"I don't want to pay any more taxes," she said. "There seems to be quite a bit of waste in government."
Malone said, however, that she didn't know whether libraries were being operated inefficiently.
Mercer said she has encountered others in the area who don't want to pay more in property taxes for libraries.
She said people need to wake up and demand less taxation without representation.
When the libraries received money from voters in 2000 to rebuild or remodel facilities, there had been no terrorist attacks, no Hurricane Katrina and no Iraq war, said Mercer.
"You better look at where the federal timber dollars went," she said.
Mercer said she also gets comments from some residents that libraries are unnecessary, particularly in the Internet age. However, as she spoke, children and adults were using computers funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"I've never needed to use emergency services or search and rescue, but are they necessary — of course," said Mercer. "Many people who say 'I don't use the libraries' have forgotten about how to help others."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.