The Last Library in Douglas County Just Closed
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We're still fighting for Douglas County Libraries. If you believe, as we do, that closing libraries is devastating to communities then please sign this petition to add your name to the list of Americans who believe libraries should remain an integral part of every American Community. We need thousands of Americans to rally and come to the aid of communities like Douglas whose residents depend on the services of their local library.
We were proud to work with the Douglas County Libraries when they were going to the voters in November. Throughout the run up to the election we were able to provide pro-bono training and consulting for the local volunteers who were working day-to-day on the campaign. Through the goodwill of our donors we were also able to provide $5,000 in direct funding to the local ballot committee and a wide range of tactical digital support. Unfortunately, in a campaign this large, with a county commission fighting against us, and with a community so steadfastly against taxes of any kind, it wasn’t enough. But even with this loss, we are working on ensuring that we continue supporting volunteers on the ground and fighting against many of the other threatened closures across the country.
Last fall, voters in this struggling Oregon timber county rejected a tax measure to keep all of its libraries from closing down. After 10 of the system’s outposts shuttered this spring, only the central branch in Roseburg, home to about a one-fifth of the county’s 107,000 residents, remained open. But now that library has also closed it doors.
“We have Google, but it’s not the same thing,” said England, 28, who home schools her two children, ages 7 and 9, and discovered libraries to be a safe environment to ask questions and learn as a little girl. “Maybe we’ll start sifting through the piles at Goodwill for materials? I don’t know.”
Just three hours south of Portland, where residents enjoy the fruits afforded by a tech and real estate boom, this rural community of loggers and agricultural workers is having to do without a publicly-funded institution considered by many to be as fundamental to American life as schools, paved roads, and the local police. In some ways, the demise of the public library system in Douglas County, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, is the outcome of a perfect storm of factors confronting towns and cities across the U.S. — the slow death of an industry; an exodus of young people and influx of retirees; an explosion of anti-tax fervor; and shifting perceptions on what government and people are willing to pay for today.
The loss may also be immeasurable for an area that’s battled high rates of poverty and the dwindling economic opportunities. Douglas is among the most impoverished counties in Oregon, recent census figures show, and nearly 26 percent of residents received food stamps in 2014. Its per capita income rate of $22,591 is roughly a fifth smaller than the $27,684 state average.
For many here, their libraries were a vibrant symbol of community and civic pride, whether it be as a public events space, a place to look for work or learn to read, or a source of free and reliable information in the age of fake news.
“It’s kind of backwards,” said Harold Hayes, who has served as the director of the Douglas County library system since 2014. “When we think of education, innovation, and progress, we tend not to think of them as going away.”