Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Library-Free County

Public libraries offer a little taste of civilization in even the most remote places. Often, no matter how far removed you are from urban centers or busy trading locations, non-fast food restaurants or buildings over two stories, walking into a public library can give you a glimpse at a wider world.

Some people think the internet is like that, but the internet has become a cesspool of conspiracy, hate, and feel good animated gifs. Besides, it rarely offers free access to contemporary books.

That’s why it’s always sad to see public libraries close, especially in rural areas. It doesn’t happen often en masse, but it’s happening now in rural Oregon, where ten branches of the county library system have just closed.

Granted, some of these libraries serve very small towns like Drain, population 1,151, or Glendale, population 874, but the county is 5,134 square miles, so it’s not like driving over to the county seat is a short trip, even if the main library at the county seat wasn’t closing in a couple of months as well, leaving the country library-free.

Some of the towns are hoping for slightly better days than having a closed library, but the going doesn’t look easy.

Most of the towns or small cities are gathering together volunteers hoping to reopen the libraries in some capacity, as reading rooms, wi-fi hot spots, and perhaps, someday, even circulating libraries.

One city, Riddle, plans “to have computers and Wi Fi available, and are working on obtaining a secure system for checking out books, one that might be shared between several cities and allow for networking and inter-library loans between city branches,” a hopefully attained ambition out of proportion to its population of 1,185.

It’s an uphill battle, with disparate actors trying to reinvent the wheel without the benefit of any cooperation from other towns. Why is this happening?

It’s because voters around there voted against a property tax increase to pay for the libraries. The county had been having budget problems ever since the federal government stopped sending pork its way in 2014.

The county also voted 71% for President Trump, presumably because they wanted to “make America great again.” America was great back before public libraries, but also when the federal government sent more money to a county than it paid in federal taxes. Ahh, the glory days.

And now industrious citizens are trying to salvage what little public reading culture they have left, with volunteer storytimes and the hope that at least people can read the books the libraries already own, even if it seems unlikely they’ll ever be buying books again, or circulating them, or getting access to books outside their small collections without some collective county plan.

It would be interesting to know how many free riders will be using these volunteer libraries, if they manage to reopen. How many people who didn’t vote for a property tax increase, but will still use the libraries for some purpose.

Hopefully none, but that’s not what the tragedy of the commons predicts. People who believe there are no public goods don’t seem to mind using them whenever possible.

When Andrew Carnegie began donating money to build public libraries, he stipulated that the money would only go to communities that agreed to continue funding their libraries. He knew that just handing money to a community to build something good for the public was useless if the public wasn’t interested in supporting it.

The Douglas County Library System was founded in 1955, after what looks like a boom period when the population more than doubled over a decade. And after 62 years it’s shutting down, perhaps never to reopen.

For all those people who want and need public libraries, for whom libraries are a lifeline to information and literacy, well, I guess they’ll have to move someplace else. The people have spoken, and that’s just not the kind of thing they want.

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Comments

  1. mountain cat says:

    I guess they didn’t have on hand about 100 dvds to every one book. Or programs about pretty nails and hair, Big Foot, aliens, or offering free food samples. I’m pretty sure those are the only reasons we are still open.

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      Pretty much this exactly. It’s hard to be in the information and literacy business in a society where a large percentage absolutely celebrates ignorance and illiteracy.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Maybe you two should leave the profession… ? You sound angry and unhappy. A change of scenery would probably do you good.

    • mountain cat says:

      How astute of you! I *am* leaving soon! Yay, me! I earned my degrees in education and library science, not Blockbuster clerking or Redbox control. I don’t mind programming so much, even if the only crowds we get are for aliens and free food (we dropped our author visit programs because few attended), but darned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life career mainly telling people no, they can’t check out more than 100 horror movies at a time, or no, you can’t print weapons or private body parts on the 3D printer. I have a new job which will again allow me to use my brain, and I can’t wait.

      I’ve been in this field a long time and it saddens me to see what it’s become in the attempt to be everything to everybody. I will miss what it was but not what it’s become.

  2. Bummer. I love Libraries, especially when I was a kid. I hate to think some kid won’t get the chance to have that experience.

  3. mud fence says:

    These people are so against taxes that the county just to their south elected to not pay taxes for the sheriff’s department. The County has no cops, except in one or two of the larger cities that have a local police force. Need a cop out in the county and you can wait hours for the state cops to show up. It’s the wild west down there. Everyone is gunned up and taking care of their own business.

  4. I grew up in a rural area that did not have a public library—what we did have was a good school library and being a rural area where everyone knew everyone, anybody in the town could use the school library. The fact is, even in the major urban center I work in, most kids rely on their school library reading material. If the story reported that all the school libraries are closing and that the state had disbanded the electronic resources it provides for all its libraries then I think we could lament the end of libraries, but the fact is in small communities reading is not a top priority apart from getting through school and schools have ample library resources.

  5. dan cawley says:

    one reporter’s viewpoint of south-central oregon:

    https://www.revealnews.org/article/in-the-rural-west-residents-choose-low-taxes-over-law-enforcement/

    our problems are as deep as they are wide; not just for rural folks, either. ask any oregonian of modest means about their rental situation. that is, if it even exists any more.

  6. Skipbear says:

    As Joanie Mitchell said, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone”. It’s pretty sad reading about this. There probably should not be a library in a place that won’t raise enough taxes for law enforcement. I shudder at the notion of having to keep a gun at the circulation desk (much less at home) because it’s all the security that’s available. Volunteers are a stop-gap at best without someone in a full-time position managing it. I helped out in a volunteer program that was great but it fell apart when the volunteer who was managing it had to quit.

  7. There is a sign in my dentist’s office reading: “Ignore your teeth and they will go away.” That’s what is happening with public libraries. I could write a thesis on the reasons why but suffice it to say that because the average American family is tapped out time-wise, googling information for kids reports or, in the best of cases, going to Barnes and Noble to buy the books needed for a report, is just easier. OH, I don’t need to tell librarians that the kid isn’t there when the books are bought or the information googled. NOOOO. They are at piano lessons, football practice, school trip, anything other than doing their homework. Sigh. But I digress…
    One day, Americans will wake up and realize that NO, everything is NOT on the internet (but much more than there used to be is) and sometimes, libraries are where you will find the obscure information you are looking for. AND the collection is curated by KNOWLEGEABLE PROFESSIONALS.
    I remember sitting in front of a town counsel being preached at by the Chair about keeping records and throwing away books to make more room instead of asking the town for more space for the children’s programs. Someone who had never stepped foot in my library. Someone who was arrogant enough to think that I was some volunteer that did the work out of the goodness of my heart. Someone that would be horrified if I offered to come to his office and do his job for him. Un blipping believable.
    I don’t blame librarians for this lack of awareness of the importance of libraries and librarians. I blame the ALA. Time and again they have failed to take up a cause on behalf of public libraries. By failing to make a pitch to the public making libraries front and center and always having public infomercials to stay “in your face” or allowing legislation to be passed cutting funds to a point where libraries have no money to replenish the collections or fill vacant positions. From what I can tell, ALA has become an machine that feeds itself, THEY have failed their members. From the ALA website and in their own words:
    “Founded on October 6, 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the American Library Association was created to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. Our current strategic plan, ALA Ahead to 2015, calls for continued work in the areas of Advocacy for Libraries and the Profession, Diversity, Education and Lifelong Learning, Equitable Access to Information and Library Services, Intellectual Freedom, Literacy, Organizational Excellence and Transforming Libraries.”

    Lofty goals but they don’t seem to be hitting the mark.

    Part of the problem is that librarianship is a predominately female profession. As a result, the pay has traditionally been predictably low. But now the game is changing and libraries are closing or being staffed by volunteers. Again, ALA has failed to educate the public in the value of libraries and librarians. If ALA isn’t going to fight for us then they might as well just close up shop and have all the library schools close too. A profession requiring a master’s degree that gets no respect and that the public believes any volunteer can do isn’t really a profession anymore, is it? And yes, I can listen to people with problems and dole out advice and I’m happy to do it (not this post) but that doesn’t make me a psychologist, does it?

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