Friday, November 13, 2009

Where's the Library

Published Dec. 2, 2005, in the Keizertimes

Jan Deardorff had never lived in a city without a public library. Then she moved to Keizer.

“I didn’t realize how much I took libraries for granted,” Deardorff said, a former librarian herself and now director of Keizer’s Reading Connection. The Reading Connection, run by volunteers, has a donated collection and is not connected with the larger public library system that serves the Salem area.

Newcomers like Deardorff may be surprised that Keizer, a town of nearly 35,000, lacks a library. The reason for that lack is a tangled web of historic and political issues, as well as current concerns about minimum library requirements and the potential difficulty of getting voters to approve funding for a library.

“We don’t want to go to the voters with a big bond measure they’ll turn down,” said Richard Walsh, a Keizer city councilor and chair of the city’s library task force.

The task force headed by Walsh is the third formed by the city in recent years. The previous two exhausted their charter before a solution could be found.

City councilors have said they will not send to voters a library ballot measure without being able to ensure interlibrary loan and other services currently provided to area libraries by the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service (CCRLS).

But so far Keizer has been unable to produce a library plan that meets the standards required by CCRLS. The cooperative requires levels of staffing and inventory that would make even a threshold library too expensive for Keizer, some residents and city councilors say.

A threshold library is one that would meet the minimum standards of the CCRLS, with the requirements calculated by size of the population served.

Space also is a concern for CCRLS representatives.

“Libraries are a touchstone in a community. They are community space. Where is the community space in Keizer now?” asked Greg Nelson, CCRLS director.

That’s a question the city would like to answer with the construction of a new civic center. The city plans to spend some urban renewal money to replace the existing city hall and seek voter approval of a bond measure to finish the job.

If approved, the new center could include up to 10,000 square feet of space for a library.

The city would ask voters to approve a separate measure to operate the library.

However, the city won’t seek a library measure without the guarantee of participation in the regional library system.

Nelson said there is room for a Keizer library within the system, but “there are costs to add a library. Additional user licenses for software, staff time to set up accounts and train local library staff, etc.”

To remedy that problem, the city managers of Keizer, Dallas, Woodburn and Salem met and brainstormed an alternate library plan. The plan would allow Keizer to set up a library that does not meet the CCRLS’ minimum requirements and pay for interlibrary loan services not on population, but on use. The cost of the lending system would be offset by materials loaned out from the Keizer library.

Even members of the Keizer library task force agreed that plan could mean additional expense for Keizer’s library.

“We would need to encourage people to use our library instead of going to Salem. That means we would likely have to have a popular collection rather than a balanced one,” said Walsh, at the task force meeting last month.

Still, task force members agreed they would like to pursue further investigation of the alternate library plan.

The city manager’s plan was submitted to the board of the CCRLS Wednesday, Nov. 16, but the board tabled its discussion to give members more time to review the proposal. It is expected to take up the issue at its Jan. 25 meeting.

Meanwhile, Keizerites contribute about $100,000 in property taxes each year to CCRLS because the city – library or no – lies within the district.

In exchange, Keizer residents receive limited service provided by the area’s other libraries. Adults can check out one item at a time, while children can check out up to 25 items.

For full library services, a Keizerite must buy a $60 library card, good for one household for one year.

Critics of a library tax measure contend that the number of residents who buy the cards is low, supporting their argument that Keizer doesn’t need its own library.

About 4,000 Keizer residents have one-item, non-resident cards, another 700 have full-access, fee-cards, and 2,500 Keizer kids have youth cards, according to estimates provided by CCRLS.

Proponents say Keizer still needs a library to serve families that can’t afford the cards and youths and others without ready transportation to the libraries in the region. In addition, they worry that the price of the cards will go up, pushing them out of reach for even more families.

Regardless of CCRLS’ decision on the alternate library plan, the final word will be rest with Keizer voters.

“None of this lifts off the ground without the passage of a bond levy,” said Eric Meurer, a member of the library task force.

As for Deardorff, she’s gotten over her surprise at Keizer’s lack of a library. Today, she is determined to be part of the solution.

“There’s a whole group of literary Keizer residents who aren’t being served by the (Salem) public library. I also know that if the alternate plan doesn’t work, we’ll find another opening to try to enter through,” she said.

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