Libraries Matter, No Matter What

By Jennifer Sherman Roberts

LibraryCardHandsThis is a hard blog post to write.

A majority of voters in Josephine County said “no” to a library district. They said no to investing in our community, to providing a safe place to learn and grow for our children, to ensuring that we always have a place where, regardless of income, we can improve ourselves.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

If you’re a supporter of the libraries, you may be having a hard time deciding what to do next. You’re probably shaking your head, wondering how our county can fail to see that libraries are foundational, that they transform lives daily. Maybe you’re embarrassed to tell family and friends in other parts of the country that you live in a place that won’t fund libraries.

And maybe you feel resentful of volunteering or writing a check to keep the libraries open, feeling as though you are subsidizing a vital community service for the naysayers.

I get it. I really, really get it. I’ve been struggling with those feelings for the last seven years, ever since we began working on reopening the libraries.

But then I remember the election of 2006. I was at the library campaign party when the results were called, and I was busy talking. I turned around to check on my kids, and I saw that my daughter, six years old at the time, was bawling. Just sobbing.

I was taken aback when I learned that the next chance to vote on a library district might not be for another four or five years. My oldest daughter would be eleven. My youngest would be nine. Those are critical reading years. And then I thought of all of their classmates and friends. A whole generation of kids who would grow up without the wealth of information and imagination a library provides…and a generation that would learn a harsh (and false) lesson that libraries, literacy, and education are worthless.

Then I remember the 15,474 people who voted yes. And the over 300 volunteers who give so tirelessly of their time and talent. And the 2,300 people who donate generously, knowing that libraries cost money, that they can’t just operate with a bunch of books and a card catalog.

Many have commented on the dedication of our volunteers and donors. It’s not just a fluke. That tenaciousness arises from the conviction that libraries matter.

Without a library district, drastic changes will need to be made. JCLI simply cannot afford to continue providing the current level of service with current revenue.

I know these changes have to happen, that our libraries will get worse, not better. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by the financial burdens the library faces.  But I try to remember that small actions add up to great accomplishments, and when I volunteer or write out my check, I imagine my contribution helping JCLI provide better library services for even one additional day. That’s one day that thousands of Josephine County children have access to all the books they can imagine. That job seekers can fill out applications online. That seniors can have large-print books delivered to their home. That people of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds can transform their lives.

And it’s one more chance to send the message—to our children and to the outside world—that we care about ideas, education, literacy, and culture.


Josephine Community Libraries is a private, nonprofit organization that receives no regular funding from taxes like most library systems. Our libraries are supported by donors. You are invited to join or renew your annual donation today. You can use a card online, mail a check, make an automatic monthly donation, give a gift, and more. Click to learn more about donating to your library.

JCLI wants YOU! There is a wide variety of volunteer positions available, so if you’re interested in spending time with the greatest volunteers on earth, read on for just a sampling of current positions available. Click to read more about volunteering for your library.

jenJennifer Roberts has been a Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. (JCLI) volunteer since its inception in 2007 and serves on the JCLI Board of Directors. A Josephine County resident for 13 years, Roberts is a writer, mother of two, writing teacher, and caretaker of one “very freaky greyhound dog.”

Read more news and blog posts.

Keep Our Libraries Open PAC

Keep Our Libraries Open is a group of Josephine County citizens dedicated to keeping libraries open permanently in Josephine County, using volunteers, grants, and stable funding dedicated to libraries.

Keep Our Libraries Open is a registered Political Action Committee (ID# 14922) in the state of Oregon.

A Brief History

The libraries in Josephine County closed on May 17, 2007. Four months later, committed community members formed Josephine Community Libraries, Inc., a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring long-term library services for every county resident. By December 2009, JCLI had reopened all four shuttered locations and continues to operate thanks to generous donations and the heroic contributions of 360 volunteers annually. Now these volunteers are also working to form a special library district to meet the ever-increasing demand for library services in Josephine County. Read more.


Thank you to the many library district volunteers who helped put this measure on the ballot and get out the vote for our libraries this November. You are true community heroes!

updated November 6, 2014