Timber Payment Renewal Won’t Bail Out Oregon Libraries

Timber Payment Renewal Won’t Bail Out Oregon Libraries

Among the extras added into the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which President Bush signed into law October 3, was nearly $1.7 billion in federal timber payments that had long been sought by four economically devastated Oregon counties dependent on the fiscal safety net for logging-industry losses since the 1990s. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oreg.) hailed the funding as “an enormous victory for our Oregon schools, counties, library, road departments, and law enforcement agencies,” according to the October 6 Eagle Point Upper Rogue Independent.

“It remains to be seen what the impact is. We’re not celebrating for libraries,” Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke cautioned, telling American Libraries that it seemed unlikely that any of the emergency funding, legislated as a four-year phase-out of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, would trickle down to the Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine county libraries—two of which shut their doors for lack of funds in 2007 after voters rejected funding levies. “I hope Congressman Walden is right and ‘essential services’ like libraries in Josephine County that are now closed can get some of this money,” Scheppke told AL. “Because the funds are less than they were before and because they phase out over four years, there is going to be intense competition, and eventually the taxpayers in these counties are going to need to step up and vote to fund their libraries like Oregonians do in the rest of the state.”

Ironically, the phase-out might actually hurt the chances for passage of a library taxing district on the November 4 ballot in Clackamas County. “It is scary that the timing of this happened just a month before the election,” Joanna Rood of the Library Information Network of Clackamas County told AL. She explained that the county has so many other financial obligations that commissioners “will be carrying on with their plan to reduce library funding and to close the three county libraries” if voters don’t approve the library district.

Rood has good reason to worry: In 2007, Jackson County voters defeated a library levy after learning that the county had received a one-year extension of timber payments. As a result, the system closed until it could reorganize as a privately managed operation whose oversight was outsourced to the Germantown, Maryland, library management firm LSSI (Library Systems and Solutions Inc.).

In Josephine County, public library service was phased out after citizens rejected the creation of an independent library district in 2006. A volunteer group calling itself Josephine Community Libraries Inc. has been soliciting public radio–style membership donations to fund the reopening of the headquarters Grants Pass Library, and had raised $237,824 as of mid-September toward the requisite sum of almost $400,000. The group moved another step closer October 9 when the county commission moved to dissolve the shuttered system’s library board and bestow its duties on the JCLI board.

In turn, Douglas County Library System shortened its services hours as of July and announced that it would have to more than halve book and magazine acquisitions as well as reduce its subscriptions to electronic databases.

The bottom line to maintaining a bottom line, Rood asserted, is making taxpayers aware of libraries’ value to them. “I try to tell people, libraries are like an insurance policy. Think about how much insurance you’ve paid over the years and you’ve never needed it. But if you actually have a problem and you need it right then, you’d sure like that insurance. And how do you know that one or two years from now you’re not going to need that public library for something very specific? If you close it down now because you said, ‘Well, I don’t use it’—well, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Posted on October 10, 2008. Discuss.