Director’s message: It’s just good business, by Kate Lasky

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But, doing something different and hoping for a better result is more sensible, and exactly what the new library district on the May ballot is all about.

After three failed attempts to pass a countywide library tax measure in the past 15 years, library leaders decided it was time to be more responsive to the voter. They reviewed the options:

  1. Let the library system atrophy from lack of sustainable funding.
  2. Ask the county voter to support library funding for a fourth time.
  3. Make the library smaller and more sustainable by shrinking the service area.

While option three is less than ideal, it is the most realistic.

Quick primer: To meet ever-increasing demand for basic library services, voters are asked to support Measure 17-79 to form a smaller, non-contiguous library district on the May 16, 2017 ballot. The smaller district will provide a foundation of stable funding for the future and be completely independent of county government. Stable funding will allow for more hours and better materials. This library district would be formed with a permanent, dedicated tax rate of 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for those living within the library district boundaries, which is about $60 a year for the average household ($5 a month). Learn more.

Libraries by nature are inclusive. We seek to provide resources for everyone, of all ages. So, the smaller area has confused some of our library supporters, residents, and even our opponents (who shall remain nameless). Shrinking the boundary leaves some folks out and others in. For example, about half of the Josephine Community Library’s (JCLI) board members live outside the proposed smaller boundary and will be “left out” of the new district. But, the boundary is not a wall and our board members can opt in after the election.

Here’s what you can do if you live outside the new library district once it is formed:

  1. Purchase an annual library card. The elected library district board will likely base the fee on what the average household will pay in taxes, about $60 a year.
  2. File paperwork with the Board of County Commissioners to be included into the district so you can pay taxes to support the library and vote in all future library elections. You don’t need to be adjacent to an existing district boundary.
  3. Use the library as a reading room. With or without a library card, all are always welcome to read during open hours.
  4. Volunteer your time at any of the four branches to receive a library card.

Obviously, JCLI will still need all of its board members, but more importantly, the new district will still need those library volunteers who live outside the boundary. If (when) the new library district passes, the elected board will ask volunteers to continue their work. Library leaders are dedicated to making sure volunteers who live outside the boundary can easily apply for a library card in exchange for volunteer hours. Those folks who are currently volunteering will be grandfathered in for the first year.

Libraries are more trusted than any other public institution, according to the American Library Association. No matter what the problem, library leaders will support finding real solutions for the whole community. Since 2009, we’ve operated the libraries with your trust. Now that we face a potential change, we ask that you trust us even more.

With the main branch in Grants Pass open a meager 24 hours a week, the library system as a nonprofit has reached a plateau. Charging for library cards would bring in even less revenue than donations, and leave out more residents than the proposed smaller library district. Further, donations are uncertain from year to year, making funding for JCLI unsustainable in the long term. A foundation of tax funding is necessary to reach sustainability and meet the needs of residents (just like all the other public libraries in the United States).

If our library buildings were stagnant and unused, funding wouldn’t be a problem. But, that’s not the case:

  • The Grants Pass branch fields more foot traffic than the local post office.
  • More than 250 newcomers sign up for library cards every month.
  • Children’s storytimes are overfull.
  • New books are on hold for years.
  • Online resources like e-books and reference material have increased in usage by 150 percent every year.

Our libraries are a well-used resource.

The need for a library district can be summed up in a Business 101 lesson on the basic law of supply and demand. An increase in customers means we need more service hours and products, which means we need revenue to support the increase. How do we support that as a community? It’s time for a new solution—a noncontiguous library district.

Studies cited by the American Library Association indicate that for every taxpayer dollar spent for public libraries, the local economy generates $4.62. Other calculations indicate the benefit can be as high as $10.80. Isn’t it great that residents are reading and working to improve their own lives by using their libraries?

In a way, these are good problems to have.

In a nutshell, the measure on the May ballot will form a smaller library service area surrounding the branches in order to increase revenue to open the buildings for more hours and purchase better books and materials for residents to use.

Frankly, Measure 17-79 is just good business.

Kate Lasky has been the executive director of Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. since 2010. She holds a master’s in education and serves on the Oregon Library Association Public Library Division Board of Directors and the Legislative and Development Committee. She is also a board member for Oregon Humanities. In 2015, she was honored by the Oregon Library Association with the Olé award which annually recognizes an Oregon public library employee who has displayed exceptional effort and excellence.

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