Revive some library service

Full operation isn't wise, but the county isn't broke, either

Jackson County has so much to offer: Britt and Shakespeare. The Rogue River, great skiing. Low crime. Good wine. Reasonable weather, usually.

But we no longer have library service, not a scrap of it. No way to access reference collections or browse back issues of magazines or sit in on story-telling or reserve reading material or even check out a book.

We want that service back, and we think it's high time the county took action to make it happen.

No, this isn't a recommendation that the county immediately reopen all 15 branches of the system. For a number of reasons, that's not likely to happen.

It is a call to county commissioners and other county leaders to find a way to revive some service — even if it is a fraction of the system — and soon.

There is no good reason to delay this much longer.

Although the county closed libraries because it lost an estimated $23 million annually in federal funding, leaving it with too little to provide some services, money is not quite the issue it might seem.

The county already is spending more than $2 million of the regular $8 million annual budget on the mothballed buildings — for a few employees, its database and telecommunications network and to maintain subscriptions.

It has about $24 million in a rainy-day fund it continues to sit on, and it has congressional approval of at least one additional year's federal funding, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $23 million more. That money will arrive in the fall.

In a story in today's Mail Tribune, County Administrator Danny Jordan notes that because of county budget issues, reopening libraries now might require closing them again in a few months — and again paying costs associated with shutting the doors.

But that's assuming the county returns full service.

What would happen if it were to reopen a central library's doors briefly each day, for example, or hire staff to cover a week by opening a branch in a different community each day?

We won't pretend to know the details, but it's clear there's enough money here to do something to put books back in the public's hands.

Any action probably should wait until after Aug. 6, the county's deadline for responses to its request for bids from parties interested in running the system. It should wait until county government receives responses to a July 10 letter Jordan sent to cities, asking them to write and tell them how they'd like to approach libraries.

But an announcement of a plan by commissioners — our elected representatives — shouldn't wait much longer.

By the end of summer, Jackson County residents will have been locked out of libraries for nearly half a year.

It's not just the ability to check out books we've lost, it's a community resource. Like the culture, the river and the rest, the library is one of the reasons our community is a place people want to be.

Let's bring it back, and soon.


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