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Grant funds will help Douglas County libraries move from volunteer to paid staff

Indoors at a library. A woman reads a picture book while showing the book to two young children.
The Sutherlin Library
A volunteer at the Sutherlin public library hosts story time.

Some libraries in Douglas county have been without a paid staff member for years. A county grant will help the libraries bring back vital programming.

Libraries in Douglas County received $85,800 in COVID-19 grant funds from the Board of Commissioners this past week, which will help the libraries bring on additional staff.

Declining timber harvest revenues and a rejection by voters to form a library tax district forced the county to shut down its libraries in 2017.
It's an ongoing problem faced by many timber-reliant communities in Southern Oregon that has cut into public services including law enforcement and jail capacity.

Both Jackson and Josephine counties were forced to shut down their library systems in 2007 because of a lack of funding. The libraries eventually reopened, under mostly volunteer efforts, and remained functional for years until voters finally approved a taxpayer-funded library district; in 2014 for Jackson County and 2017 for Josephine County.

Since Douglas County shuttered its library's doors, some of them have been run completely by volunteers.

Oakland Library Treasurer Deborah Browning says they’ve had limited funding for staff through the years, but now they’re able to have a librarian 10 hours a week.

“Already she’s rearranged the library, she’s cleaning things up,” Browning says, talking about the new librarian Kelsey McEuen who was hired in June. “She’s doing programs, storytime every Wednesday. And we have summer reading going on now.”

Browning says without staff, it’s hard to run things like the summer reading program.

Douglas Community Library Association President Lisa Sabol says local libraries need to think about ongoing funding.

“Another thing to think about that justifies funding staff is that, with paid staff, there may be more capacity of these libraries to do fundraising,” Sabol says.

Now that every library has a paid staff member, Sabol says they’ll likely be eligible for more state funding and grants that aren’t afforded to volunteer-run libraries.

The State Library board has a list of minimum conditions a library needs to meet to qualify for state aid: including being open for at least 10-20 hours a week, offering free wi-fi access and most importantly, a paid staff member working at least 10-20 hours per week.

The county grant pays for a librarian on staff 10 hours a week for the next year.

Sabol is hoping to return to the commissioners next year to extend the grant, after showing how successful they’ve been in offering library programming to their communities.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.