Kim Wolfe, Central Library branch manager, opens the doors to patrons. - Jim Craven

Open books for all

Sabrina Lopes showed up Tuesday for the reopening of the Central Library with her 4-year-old son, only to discover she was a day early.

"We were so excited we had the days mixed up," said the 37-year-old Central Point woman, who was first in line for the Wednesday opening. "We've been waiting for this day."

Lopes was among about 1,500 jubilant patrons who poured through the doors of the Medford branch throughout the day after it had been closed to the public for more than six months.

To commemorate the occasion, the St. Mary's School Choir performed outside the library, and the Friends of the Library offered cookies and punch.

"This is a day of celebration to welcome back a place that hasn't been with us for far too long," said choir teacher Michael Wing.

All 15 branches of the Jackson County library system closed April 6 because of funding problems. After receiving a one-year extension of a federal safety net for timber-dependent counties, Jackson County commissioners decided to reopen libraries with a private contractor for about half the hours and half the former budget.

Ashland's library also opened Wednesday, and the 13 other branches throughout the county are scheduled to open next week.

Usually homebound with multiple sclerosis, Diana McCloud took a taxi because she didn't want to miss the opening day in Medford.

"It's something that shouldn't have been closed in the first place," said the 48-year-old Medford resident.

After going through the checkout line loaded up with books, she found the library staff helpful. "It hasn't changed a bit," she said.

Library operations have been outsourced to Maryland-based Library Systems and Services LLC, known as LSSI, which has hired former library employees to staff all 15 branches.

Marian Barker, one of six people who had been running the mothballed library system, welcomed the hundreds of people who streamed through the doors.

"I'm ecstatic," said Barker, who is now youth services manager. "It was like a morgue here. It's a beautiful building, but it's even more beautiful when it's filled with people."

Kayla Watson, 7, the first child to walk through the doors into the children's section, had a huge smile on her face. She wanted to check out "The Hungry Caterpillar" and was so excited she ran from one area of the children's section to the next to see all the things she had missed for the past six months.

"I dreamed about it," she said.

Her grandmother, 51-year-old Becky Lombard, said Kayla couldn't wait for the White City branch to open next week.

Kayla's mother, 31-year-old Starr Watson, said her daughter is homeschooled so it's been a struggle getting enough reading materials.

County Commissioners C.W. Smith and Dave Gilmour attended the opening and both received library cards. Smith said he didn't have one and Gilmour said his was too old and battered.

Smith said one wrinkle that will have to be worked out is setting a policy for Josephine County residents who want to use Jackson County libraries. Before libraries closed in Josephine County, there was a reciprocal agreement between the two counties.

A fee will have to be established for non-county residents, said Smith.

Many patrons saw very little difference in their experience with an outsourced library.

"I'm just delighted it's open," said Wendy Francis-Irwin, a 47-year-old Medford resident. "There's a kind of jubilance in the air."

Kathy Matthews said it will take some time to determine whether there is much of a difference. "As time goes by there's going to be more of a move toward self-service," she said.

The 48-year-old Medford woman said she isn't particularly concerned at this point about the differences. "I'm just so happy it's open," she said.

Mark Smith, transition team leader for LSSI, said there will be more of an emphasis on self-service checkout, and the self-serve machines have been relocated in the checkout line.

Smith said that 85 percent of the checkouts are self-serve at the library in Redding, Calif., that LSSI operates.

Library services such as outreach to the homebound and placing holds on materials will become available next month, said Smith.

The library will be offer the popular Storytime reading program to children starting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Some patrons were so excited that they hugged former library staff they hadn't seen for six months.

One of these patrons, 55-year-old Bonnie Bayard of Medford, filled her arms with books and videos. "This is my home away from home," she said. "I'm a bookaholic. This is my fix."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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