Never mind that familiar ball-field promise, "If you build it, they will come." When it comes to Southern Oregon's libraries, "If we close it long enough, they'll accept outside management" is the voice inside the heads of decision makers.
When federal timber monies dried up earlier this year and frightened taxpayers in Jackson County didn't rally around a library levy in time, a booklover's worst nightmare commenced. Some 15 library branches were shuttered across the rural county; literacy and children's reading programs ceased or met less often in schools struggling to take up the slack.
The idea of private management by a for-profit private firm was floated early on in the crisis, and it has come to reality now. This outsourcing means Library Systems & Services of Germantown, Md., will run the libraries, but the county retains ownership of the buildings and contents. Most of the Jackson County library employees are now applying to get their old jobs back, even knowing they will no longer be part of the state's retirement plan, a major perk in a notoriously low-paying profession requiring pricy higher education.
LSSI spokespeople say standards and services don't drop when they come to town, and even skeptical library-watchers hope that turns out to be true.
Some of us still wonder what will happen the first time a parent protests the shelving of Catcher in the Rye, or the concept of fee-for-use rears its head around Internet use and other services. Meanwhile, perhaps the healthier libraries in Oregon, such as the fabulous Multnomah County system, could institute an adopt-a-patron model:
If one of you Southern Oregon readers needs me to look something up, just ask.
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