Ashland library opens doors to an eager crowd

ASHLAND — "It's like Christmas!" shouted Becky Brown as she ushered her homeschooled kids into the Ashland Library after a six-month closure because of budget cuts.

"I could hardly sleep last night, seriously."

Brown wasn't the only one beaming Wednesday morning as the library doors opened for the first time since April 6. Readers young and old crammed bags with five, 10, even 15 tomes, many saying they were relieved they no longer had to borrow from friends or strain their budgets for books.

"I'm just really happy," said Bronson Samel-Garloff, 12, the last patron ushered out by Ashland police Sgt. Malcus Williams after a sit-in the day the doors closed — and the first one of the same bunch of kids welcomed back when the doors reopened.

"I'm happy because I don't have to pay $16 a book. That cost me a lot," he said. "And I missed it because it's such a nice, air-conditioned place to come in summer."

They have all my favorite books here — and I have lots of friends I only see here."

As cameras clicked, Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada read a poem that ended, "Please, please, who has the keys?" At that point, Ashland Branch Manager Amy Blossom threw open the doors and Sgt. Williams, leading kids in, said simply, "It's a fun day for a lot of people."

"It's been very emotional," said Blossom. "We've all been working so hard. We're overjoyed. It's so fun to see everyone here again."

The Central Library in Medford also opened Wednesday, and the remaining 13 branches are set to open next week.

An "elated and gratified" Pam Vavra, just elected chairwoman of the Ashland Library Advisory Committee, said her panel will work with the new private operator of the library system. The committee also will strive to put a measure on the November 2008 to stabilize funding.

Other library supporters have suggested waiting until after 2008 for a levy to give residents time to see how the new system works. Jackson County has contracted with Maryland-based Library Systems and Services LLC, or LSSI, to operate the libraries for half the hours at about half the cost for the next five years.

The advisory committee will study several options, such as a countywide library district with its own tax base or a district comprising the cities that voted in favor of unsuccessful library levies in May 2006 and last November, Vavra said. That would be the Ashland, Talent and Rogue River, and the Phoenix-Talent school district would be included.

Vavra said her first choice is not countywide funding, because "there's a word for it when you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. The word is insanity. But I'm open to all options."

The half-year closure, said Blossom, caused "a lot of embarrassment, sadness and disbelief as to how this could happen "¦ but we learned we are a community that can create what it wants and a library is an essential part of our community."

Ashland voters last month approved a levy of up to 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to boost library hours from 24 a week, as provided by county funding, to 40 hours.

The Ashland Library will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. It will be closed Fridays.

Patron Don Walton said he joined the Southern Oregon University library and "had to buy a lot of books" in the past six months. He said he was "delighted" Wednesday but added, "I feel property owners should not have to pay for the library to be open."

Brown said to cope with the library book drought, she traveled to her father's house in California to pick up all the books she used as a child. She also traded books with friends and got many from the free Media Exchange on East Main Street.

"It's been such an emotional, disappointing time for us," Brown said. "The kids are always going to remember this, the time when there was no library. I hope they don't have to experience it again and I hope they figure out a way that's not temporary."

Mori Samel-Garloff called the opening a double-edged sword because it was bought at the cost of privatization when "the library and the post office are the only parts of government that have operated correctly.

"With privatization, there's no reason for the county commissioners to work it into their budget. I don't like my tax money going to a corporation out of state," he said.

Queuing up before the 10 a.m. opening, longtime front desk volunteer Betsy Gentry said, "We need the library. You can't have a community without a library."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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