Connecting state and local government leaders
As volunteers step up to run community libraries, a new intergovernmental agreement in southwest Oregon gives local advocates there some new hope.
Last spring, the library system in cash-strapped Douglas County, Oregon, found itself in an unusually difficult position. Voters in the largely conservative and impoverished county had rejected a vote in November 2016 to create special taxing district to fund the area’s public libraries. When local commissioners declined to find alternate funding, the 11-branch system initiated a phased shut-down until the last location, in the county seat of Roseburg, closed its doors for good in June.
The drastic decision to shutter Douglas County’s libraries brought national attention, including from The New York Times, which in May featured the strong anti-tax sentiments in southwest Oregon, “where a handful of rural counties are showing what happens when citizens push the logic of shrinking government to its extremes.”
Since the national spotlight on Douglas County faded, volunteers and local communities have come together to reopen nine of the library branches in the county, which covers a geographic area roughly equivalent to the state of Connecticut and is home to around 100,000 residents.
“None of these libraries can look you in the eye and say, ‘Oh yeah we’re going to be open a year from now, for sure.’ They don’t know. We hope so, and there’s a good chance,” Robert Heilman, a board member of the Douglas Community Library Association and the Douglas County Library Foundation, recently told The News Review in Roseburg.
Despite the uncertainty ahead, there’s a bit of hope for library advocates in Roseburg. In late December, county commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement that transfers the main branch in Roseburg, a city with approximately 22,000 residents located about 180 miles south of Portland, to the municipal government there.
As KLCC reported, the agreement transfers the building and all its contents to the city at no cost in exchange for Roseburg covering the costs of operating library services there.
The city government plans to remodel the space, according to KPIC-TV, and plans to include space for the Education Service District.
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Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.