Gone but not forgotten: Children commemorate libraries

Maxwell Samel-Garloff, 9, of Ashland, stands in front of mock tombstones set up for each of Jackson County's libraries that were closed April 6. A group of children dressed in black held a mock funeral for the libraries Tuesday.Mail Tribune / Jim Craven

Fifteen gray tombstones commemorated the closure of libraries as eight Ashland children, dressed in black, held a mock funeral procession outside the Jackson County Courthouse Tuesday.

"The Medford library opened in 1903 and closed in 2007 by the Jackson County Commissioners," said each of the children as they placed flowers in front of the cardboard tombstones. The children had learned from a reference librarian — before the libraries' closure — when each of the branches had opened.

Just before the children held their procession, the Jackson County budget committee, made up of three commissioners and three volunteers, discussed the final touches of the county's proposed budget, which reflects the closure of all 15 libraries on April 6.

"It's horrible that my mom and dad still pay for our Ashland library even though they aren't using it," 9-year-old Maxwell Samel-Garloff told county budget committee members before the funeral procession.

He suggested that the county cut down on other programs to help pay for libraries, and expressed dismay that there wasn't more effort to include the public in the decision to close the branches down.

The commissioners made the decision when it became clear that the federal government would no longer send the county a $23 million annual timber safety net, known as the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act.

Congress has proposed extending the program, but it is included in a war appropriations bill that President Bush has threatened to veto because it places a timeline on pulling troops out of Iraq.

Maxwell's brother, Bronson Samel-Garloff, said the commissioners had advance warning about the potential to close libraries. "You guys knew this seven years ago about the libraries."

Bronson criticized the billions of dollars being spent on the Iraq war and all the American bombs that have killed innocent children. "We could have used some of that for our libraries," he said.

Aubyn Heglie, 11, said after the procession that she and the other children came up with the idea of dressing in black before the libraries closed.

The children also organized a sit-in at the Ashland branch on April 6.

Aubyn said she already misses not being able to go to her library to check out a book.

"You want to read a book that your friends don't have, so are you going to have to buy it?" she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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