While the county branch library in downtown Ashland stands empty, the little library at Walker Elementary School several blocks away is bustling with children and parents.
Wearing a bike helmet, 7-year-old Luke Richmond leaves Walker on Friday teetering under the weight of a pile of nine books he checked out from the school library.
Jacksonville Elementary, 655 Hueners Lane, Jacksonville. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 21; Story time 11:30 a.m.
Phoenix-Talent School District
Ashland School District
Other volunteer programs
His mother, Rachel Richmond, follows him with an armful of three books for his 10-year-old sister, Amy.
"My daughter is an avid reader so after the public libraries closed we really felt it," Rachel Richmond said. "We had to buy books until we found out the school libraries were open."
Ashland, Medford and Phoenix-Talent school districts opened libraries this summer to help fill the gap left by the closure of all 15 Jackson County public library branches in April due to a lack of funding.
Demand for the school libraries has been robust enough in the Medford district to prompt officials to extend operating hours using money from a grant from the Medford Schools Foundation.
The libraries at Jackson, Lone Pine, Oak Grove and Wilson elementary schools will now be open an hour earlier, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays.
Since the Medford district's summer reading program began June 26, the four school libraries have checked out more than 1,800 books and had more than 500 visits.
"This program is so needed, but hopefully, it'll be the last summer it's needed," said Margaret Bruland, Medford schools elementary librarian, referring to efforts to reopen the county's public libraries.
Open only on Fridays, Walker Elementary sees about 50 visitors on average.
The other Ashland schools, each of which open their libraries one day a week, have seen similar numbers, said Carolyn Hald, library assistant at Helman Elementary.
"I think the numbers are increasing every week as people realize we're open," Hald said.
In addition to the summer reading program, Walker hosts Babies in the Library, formerly held in the public libraries.
The program, funded by an Oregon Community Foundation grant, exposes babies, and children up to age 3, to rhymes, songs and board books.
"Children need to hear language being read before they can be expected to learn how to read, and rhymes have so many vocabulary words not spoken in everyday conversations and TV," said Margie Cicerrella, an early literacy consultant.
Phoenix Elementary School, a bilingual school, has logged an average of about 40 kids a day, said Principal Zuna Johnson.
"It's somewhat larger but not what we expected," Johnson said. "We expected to be overrun."
The school offers an open library where children can check out books and the Reading Road program.
The program is the equivalent of a reading relay in which students stop at seven stations to do reading exercises and play games. It was devised by Monte Killingsworth, a Phoenix Elementary reading specialist.
"When they're done at a station, they get a stamp," Johnson said. "It gives them a variety of different activities to help their reading skills."
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.