My View: Budget woes could put our libraries in a deep hole

Our libraries are well-loved and an essential part of what makes ours a great community. But even more remarkable is that they are so well-used: the second-busiest in the entire nation — of any size city — after only New York City.

But as central as they are to our day-to-day lives, our libraries are subject to the instability that comes from a system of temporary and unpredictable funding.

Finally, we have a chance to do something about it.

Right now if you show up at the library most evenings, it’s closed. On Monday, the library is closed all day. Hours of service are down to 44 a week, from 57 a week. We have the shortest hours of any public library system in the four-county Portland region. And when hours are cut back, so are activities we count on for kids, students, families, job-seekers, senior citizens and more.

Even the budget for new books and materials has been reduced.

The library must make periodic cuts to hours and services because it relies on temporary funding. The roller-coaster system of funding available to the library means we don’t know from year to year what hours and services we will have.

Those services make a real difference:

More than 17,000 different library classes and events were held for youth each year. And more than 255,000 youth participated in library programs.

Library story times served nearly 120,000 young children last year.

Parents are offered classes to show them how to teach their kids to read.

The library’s School Corps program connects students and educators with the resources of the public library — directly serving 48,000 students in the last year.

Library staff create materials, gather books and provide support to more than 1,500 individual teachers.

The library serves 26,000 individual children and parents at risk for low literacy, and assists in preparing children to start school ready to learn.

The libraries provide homework help after school to students, giving them a safe and structured place to go.

The library is one of the sole sources of computers for those who don’t have them at home, and provides classes for how to use them.

Job seekers get important help from the libraries — how to search for a new or better job; how to interview and write a resume.

Library books are sent to senior citizens and the homebound — more than 200,000 a year.

Services this important need a stable source of funding and that is exactly what a local Library District would provide. Passing Measure 26-143 would restore the library hours and staff needed for services, programs and activities in all 19 libraries. Just as important, it provides permanent, reliable funding for a permanent, important service used by the entire community.

Funds for the library district will replace the current library levy so we won’t pay that anymore. The typical homeowner will pay an additional $49 a year above what they already pay for libraries.

Approving the library district will not create a new layer of government: the Multnomah County Commission remains the library district’s governing body.

It will also retain the accountability and good value we have always gotten from our libraries. Our library system currently receives annual financial audits and periodic performance audits from the independently elected auditor, and so will the library district. And three independent bodies will continue to review the library budget.

It’s a straightforward choice: Creating a library district will provide stable, dedicated funding and will both restore the cuts and prevent them into the future.

So please vote yes, so our library can be there for all of us.

Brian Wilson is committee chairman for the Libraries Yes campaign supporting Measure 26-143.

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