December 19, 2014

Josephine County PL To Reopen

By Norman Oder

Volunteer Oregon nonprofit raises ‘memberships'; some federal funds back

The four libraries in Josephine County, OR, closed in May 2007 after the loss of federal timber payments decimated several county budgets, should begin to reopen later this year, thanks in part to a restoration of such payments.

On October 14, the county agreed to provide a $300,000 matching grant to the nonprofit Josephine Community Libraries (JCLI), which had already raised more than $230,000 and has until November 30 to raise the rest.

That decision was good news for JCLI, which had criticized the Board of County Commissioners for pledging $300,000 in fall 2007, then backsliding to $100,000. Nearly $400,000 is needed to reopen the main library, in Grants Pass; county officials also agreed to maintain the outer shell of the building, while JCLI will take care of the interior.

Inspired by a local newspaper columnist, JCLI was set up to manage and fund the library, aiming to raise $1 million by collecting $82 from each of the 13,000 people who voted in favor of a failed library taxing district. That plan would have raised property taxes by $82 a year.

Only 1200 citizens, or “members,” had contributed by October—a sign, according to State Librarian Jim Scheppke, that the “NPR model”—proposed most notably by Steve Coffman of outsourcing firm Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI)—might be a tough sell for communities, even one as well organized as Josephine County.

“We see ourselves as contractors to the county working to operate the library much as LSSI does, except that we are a private nonprofit,” JCLI spokeswoman Jennifer Sherman Roberts told LJ. “If the county government wanted to run libraries, JCLI would be happy to step to the side.”

Federal help

The county budget got a boost in early October, when the bailout bill Congress passed included a renewal of funds to assist rural Western counties that have federal land long used for logging.

Still, “the jury’s out” on whether the funds will be used proportionally for libraries, Scheppke said. He noted that Clackamas County residents will vote in November to approve a new county library district but may be wary, thinking that the county may now have enough general funds to support library service.

However, the payments approved by Congress were less than in past years and would last only four years, shrinking annually. “It doesn’t solve the libraries’ problems, long term,” Scheppke said.

It was unclear how much the federal aid would help libraries in Douglas and Jackson counties, Scheppke said. Jackson closed in spring 2007, reopening months later with shorter hours and under private management by LSSI.

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