By Jeff Cogen of Portland, Oregon. Jeff is the chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.
Multnomah County’s libraries are the 2nd busiest in the nation, after the New York Public Library. That’s an amazing fact – given that we are the country’s 77th biggest county by population.
One reason our libraries are so well used is that this is a community of readers. But the library is about more than just borrowing books. Our libraries provide an amazing number of programs to young children, students, teens and their families.
These services meet a real need and youth are very big users of the library. More than half of all young people in Multnomah County have library cards: that’s 81,699 cardholders under the age of 18. In fact, just last year the Multnomah County library:
- Served youth 255,000 times through library programs.
- Assisted 26,000 children and parents at risk for low literacy by preparing them to start school ready to learn.
- Taught reading classes for parents and families - in English and Spanish.
- Provided academic support to students 971,175 times, in person and online. That averages 2,661 times per day, all year round, even when school is out.
- Reached 71,407 students and over 1500 teachers last year through the library’s innovative School Corps program
- Trained and supported over 800 teens who volunteer for the library. And last year, over 3,000 teens attended one of the library’s Teen Lounges, a safe, open space for young adults to hang out, geek out, and mess around while feeling comfortable and welcome.
The library is also a local community center at which anyone, no matter who you are, can get free help and answers from a knowledgeable librarian – whether you need help looking for a job, studying for citizenship, or starting a small business. And you can get it in many languages, on-line or in person, or in a class.
And in an age when corporate interests seek to privatize more and more information and sell it at a profit, the library is a bulwark – guaranteeing the public free access to books and other vital information.
I can hear you thinking, ‘The library is doing just fine. Why are we voting again? Why do we need a library district?’ The answer is simple: stable and dedicated funding for these important services.
Libraries are a core, community service. They get big love and tremendous use, but in Multnomah County they survive almost entirely on temporary levies that, due to property tax compression, vary widely in how much they raise annually.
This means that from one year to the next the library doesn’t know how much money they will get. As a result, the library can’t plan for the long term. New programs that work well and receive short-term grant money cannot be made permanent – due to lack of consistent funds.
And when funds get really tight, the library has to cut the basics: right now we are down to 44 hours a week – the shortest of any public library system in the region. Our library is only open two evenings a week. Among other inconveniences, Monday closure means there is nowhere for kids to go after school for homework help. And the budget for new books and materials has been reduced.
A local library district means all funds collected for the library can go only to library services. Hours, programs, activities and services recently cut, will be restored and funded into the future. Long-term planning can move forward and needed programs can get to those who need them.
The library district will cost the typical home $4 more a month than they currently pay. It replaces the current levy. And accountability will remain in place: three independent bodies review the library budget. It’s part of the county’s annual audit. And the Board of County Commissioners remain the governing body.
What’s in a library district for you? A reliable institution dotting every corner of our county that reflects our community’s commitment to the notion that literacy and equality are central to our civilization. Good libraries make a great community, and that’s us.
Oct. 31, 2012 | |