Aloha group aims to open community library by spring 2012

When asked why Aloha - whose post office opened in 1912 - should have its first community library, Eric Squires doesn't hold back.

While his list of advantages - promotion of literacy, providing a sense of place, computer access, a place for children to study, among them - isn't especially unique to the unincorporated community, the reason he emphasized most strongly springs from good old-fashioned community passion.

'They want a library!' Squires wrote in a recent email message.

A volunteer director with the new Aloha Community Library Association and board of directors, Squires used capital letters and numerous exclamation marks to drive his point home.

That it's taken less than a year to secure rent-free space, establish a nine-member board of directors, adopt bylaws and launch three websites - all for a facility that could open as early as next spring - speaks to the level of organization and sheer forward motion behind the Aloha Community Library concept.

'The momentum in the community is tremendous,' Squires said in a phone interview on Monday. 'The community buy-in has been incredible. I've heard nothing negative about it, only incredibly positive feedback.'

The association and board formed in February from members of CPO-6, the Community Participation Organization that serves Aloha, Reedville and Cooper Mountain.

The group intends to have a working library open in the Bales Thriftway Shopping Center at Kinnaman and Farmington roads by spring 2012. The date is symbolically significant as the 100-year anniversary of the Aloha Post Office.

The fledgling library will be the featured topic at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum held on Monday at the Old Spaghetti Factory, 18925 N.W. Tanasbourne Drive in Hillsboro. Beginning with lunch at 11:30 a.m., the forum will feature Peter Leonard, executive director of the Cedar Mill Community Library, talking about the library system's relationship to technology and public service in these trying economic times.

Squires, who will speak about the grassroots effort to establish the library, credits Leonard and other Washington County Cooperative Library Services officials with offering invaluable assistance in getting the Aloha project off the ground.

'They've been rock stars, incredibly supportive,' Squires said, also crediting the North Plains library staff for providing 'a wealth of information.'

Early opening

Squires credited an offer of free rent for the Bales Thriftway center space this summer as providing the project a huge head start.

'It evolved with the donation first. That just really accelerated the process,' he said. 'If somebody takes rent out of the equation and says, 'Here's a spot. Fill it,' can we really not do it?

'With that donation, we can start working on other things.'

Although several months away from active service, the library will ceremoniously 'open' for two hours on Friday, Dec. 2. Dr. Matthew Maberry, the Aloha veterinarian who delivered baby elephant 'Packy' at the Oregon Zoo in 1962, will donate a copy of his book, 'Packy and Me,' to the library as a neon 'Open' sign is turned on.

The event is geared toward raising public awareness, soliciting volunteers and emphasizing the library's connection to its surrounding community.

'A local author checking out a local book, that's the kind of narrative we're trying to put together,' Squires said of the board's efforts this year. 'We're inviting anybody (including those) who can write a check or donate time and services.'

In addition to monetary donations, the new library association is seeking volunteers with a variety of skills and experience, including grant writing, accounting, legal work for nonprofits and running libraries and small businesses.

'It's really an interesting exercise in community building,' Squires said.

Filling the gap

Eva Calcagno, director of Washington County Cooperative Library Services, said the need for an Aloha library was established in a recent study of walkability and public services in the county. Several Aloha residents questioned why the Beaverton City Library opened its new Murray-Scholls branch while Aloha had no library at all.

'People asked, 'How come they get a new library and we don't?'' she said. 'It was a good opportunity to talk to them.'

One study found 56,000 registered library users in Aloha's ZIP code traveled to facilities in Beaverton, Cedar Mill, Tigard and other locales.

'That tells me there's a pretty significant population of people who have to drive to use the library,' Calcagno said. 'If you look at maps (of existing libraries), the buildings go in an arc. From Tualatin to Forest Grove, there is a big gap in the map in the center of the county.'

Beaverton City Library Director Ed House agreed that parts of Washington County are underserved by libraries.

'We think that area definitely needs library service, a local facility, especially for kids but also for adults,' he said. 'There's a hole in our service area, and (Aloha's) right in the middle of it.'

Noting the extensive criteria toward becoming part of the Washington County cooperative, House said it took at least 18 months to bring the Murray-Scholls branch online. In the meantime, he and his staff are ready to assist the Aloha group in achieving its goals.'We haven't really had formal conversations, but we're happy to help them out any way we can,' he said.

The next chapter

The most recent library levy measure, which provides about a third of necessary funding beyond the county's general fund, was just renewed in July for five years. Therefore the Aloha library would likely operate on a volunteer basis until it's time for a new funding measure, Calcagno explained.

'It will take awhile to work up to generating enough revenue locally to have a paid staff,' she said. 'We'll have to wait until we have another funding measure on the ballot for an expansion of funds. In the interim, we can provide developmental grants to help them build their collections.'

Technicalities aside, Calcagno said she's impressed with how far the Aloha group has come in a short time. 'The group seems very organized and businesslike as they approach this. They seem to be moving very quickly and are doing their due diligence and getting their ducks in a row,' she said.

Aware that plenty administrative and financial hurdles remain, Squires said he's energized by the progress the new association has already achieved.

'Not a single government entity has written a check, and we (will) have this year opened a library,' he said. 'For a board to put together a library, even to open ceremoniously, without a dime of public money is incredible.'

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