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Helping the homebound

County library system delivers materials to people who are unable to get to a branch

These avid readers used to take it for granted that they could drive down to the library and get any books they wanted ' until the infirmities of old age took that away.

But thanks to Jackson County's Outreach program, more than 100 homebound seniors, caretakers and disabled people get stacks of books delivered to their homes, along with a healthy dollop of chat time.

It's the bright spot of the month for me, said Marie Whidden, a Medford assisted living resident. The lady brings me about 15 books at a time — biography, history, mysteries, novels — and I wouldn't be near as content as I am here without it. It's wonderful and really makes a difference.

Started in 1976 as a service to nursing homes, Outreach delivers 3,500 books, videos, CDs and books-on-tape to 850 patrons throughout Jackson County. It's free and available to anyone who can't get to the library.

With the steady increase in the valley's retired population ' and the increased resources of the new Medford library last spring ' the work of Outreach has climbed significantly, said director Lorrie Kovell. It's essentially created a 16th branch of the county library system, one that's bigger than half the other branches.

— I can't tell you how many people in their 90s we deliver to, said Outreach senior clerk Pat Hardy. They're very well read on the latest politics and when we come, they're dressed up and want to talk about it all.

Added Kovell, With age, some people shut down and lose interest in life, but the readers, especially teachers or other people who've read all their lives, stay alert and interested in learning.

With a new pile of books — emphasis on medieval British history ' sitting on her nightstand, retired music teacher Dorothea Ralston of Horton Plaza in Medford said, This means everything to me. It's a comfort to me. It's what I do more than anything else.

It's no accident that the fresh batch of books is exactly what Ralston wants to read. Outreach staff ' three part-time workers and 10 volunteers ' do an extensive intake interview, noting all the client's reading interests and keeping them updated in files at the Central Library. Book pulling (selecting) starts a week ahead of time to lessen odds of desired volumes being out on loan.

It's one of the most rewarding jobs in the library, said Hardy, pointing to a big bag of thank-you notes from clients.

Staff also keep track of the most useful medium for clients, who usually move from normal print to large-print books, then to the increasingly popular books-on-tape.

It totally enriches their lives and without it, they would be in a real bind, said Outreach clerk Peggy Tomlins. Most of them don't have the money to pay for books and they can't turn to television, because most can't afford cable.

You can go anywhere you want when you read, said Doris Olson of Skylark Assisted Living Center in Ashland, a lifelong library fan who lost her driver's license with increasing frailties of age.

They bring me six books a month and they know what I like ' books about politics, Clive Cussler, murder mysteries ' and you really find out how other people live.

Observed Hardy, You're not alone if you have a good book.

The Outreach service thrives on donations and bequests, both of books and money. Donations may be made by calling 774-6423.

Pat Hardy with the Medford branch library?s Outreach program delivers books to Dorothea Ralston in her apartment at Horton Plaza in Medford. The Outreach program has soared in recent months, delivering 3,500 books to 850 patrons throughout Jackson County Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli