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Jackson County Library District approves SOHS partnership

Jackson County residents now have free access to archives inside the Southern Oregon Historical Society research library in downtown Medford, and more resources will make their way online in coming months.

Thanks to a new partnership between the Jackson County Library District and the Historical Society, library cardholders no longer will have to pay the $5 usage fee to access the hundreds of thousands of indexed and cataloged historical archives at the downtown Medford research facility, according to SOHS archivist Pat Harper. Library cards are free to county residents.

Expanded hours of noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays will start Tuesday, March 13, at the SOHS facility at 106 N. Central Ave., Medford. 

The Jackson County Library District board unanimously approved the contract to pay SOHS about $46,000 per year Feb. 8, according to board president Susan Kiefer, who said in an email that the board believed the collection of artifacts at the research library were "unique and irreplaceable."

"They should be preserved and made available to our citizens," Kiefer wrote. "To that end we entered an agreement to insure citizens have access and that the archives are well cared for."

The collection of century-old property records, marriage licenses, maps and more than 100,000 photographs are often used to research family histories or provide documentation for National Register of Historic Places applications, research volunteers have said.

The contract provides a small revenue stream for SOHS after voters rejected a Heritage District tax levy in November 2016, prompting SOHS to lay off all paid staff.  Kiefer said that compared to what was on the ballot, the library's agreement is "quite different and very narrowly limited."

As archivist and the sole person back on the SOHS payroll part-time, Harper will be the one working Saturdays.

"It wasn't my favorite part of the contract, but I totally agreed with them," Harper said.

The library district will pay SOHS $39,000 a year, paid monthly, in return for giving county residents access to the physical archives. The library district additionally could pay SOHS up to $7,600 a year for making digitized photos and other documents available online, broken down into three areas:

  • The contract will allow the historical society to bill the library up to $2,800 more a year by making more of its historical photo collection available online. Terms include adding 4,000 photos from its 100,000-plus collection before it can start billing the library.
  • Digitizing online access to documents such as century-old property records, marriage licenses and maps could be worth an extra $2,808 per year.
  • The library will also pay the historical society up to $2,000 for exhibits posted on the library's website and for exhibits at library branches.

Kiefer said that for the amount the library is paying, access to archives with consistent hours and expert assistance seems an "excellent value."

"If this turns out not to be the case, we will be able to terminate the agreement with no ongoing financial commitment," Kiefer said.

Prior to the partnership, the historical society used its photo collection and document scans as sources of revenue. Harper is working with volunteers to retool the SOHS website and make the resources available for free, but implementing the shift will be gradual because of the labor involved, Harper said.

A first step is making the full text of Southern Oregon Historical Society magazines available free online, though Harper said she's "still working out the technical details" to make that happen. The magazine was published between 1981 and 2009, with articles on local historical figures and places drawn from research library archives.

"That was the quickest thing I could make available full-text," Harper said.

Harper has been volunteering as archivist since November 2016, and for six years prior to the election she worked as staff archivist. She said she's hoping to hire a qualified "substitute" who can work once or twice a week and fill in so she can take a vacation. No candidate is yet in the works, Harper said.

The historical society's offerings won't be merged with the public library's catalog, according to Harper, who described the two agencies' archival systems as "quite different."

"Combining that with the public library's catalog would be a very complex process," Harper said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.