Libraries may opt to go it alone

Who can blame 'em?

That's Talent and Ashland, the only two areas in the county to vote in favor of this spring's failed library levy, and now the two making the most serious moves to open libraries on their own.

Ashland has organized a group, Committee to Open Ashland Library, to mount an ambitious campaign to pass a $1.032 million levy in a September election. Talent is less organized, but the City Council has informally agreed to consider a $4-per-household utility surcharge to reopen the library there. It likely will seek residents' opinions in a November vote. There also are rumblings in the Applegate-Ruch area of efforts to reopen their buildings.

We've made the point before that this is no way to run a library system. An analysis this summer of city-by-city costs showed that the county as a whole can run libraries more inexpensively than communities can individually.

And the cities' efforts raise a bunch of questions. Would others have access to their libraries? If so, at what costs? Would Ashland and Talent residents have access to materials outside the local library's collection — say, what's in the Central Library in Medford?

In the case of Talent, where the city would seek some contribution from the county as well as local funds, how would the county resolve paying for a Talent library but not for others? In the case of Ashland, what would the city do if the county was suddenly ready to resume service? Would it be in, or would it continue to operate on its own?

The issues point to the need for a countywide solution, not a city-by-city approach.

That said, it's hard to fault Ashland and Talent for their unwillingness to pin their hopes entirely on the future of the county apparatus, which has been moving slowly on this issue.

Although county leaders are seeking bids from parties interested in running a countywide system, it remains unclear what their commitment is to returning service. It also remains unclear whether they would return it to all areas of the county or just a few.

In Ashland, leaders of the levy campaign say, lack of a library is a big problem for the educated population.

The irony here is that less educated, less affluent parts of the county have just as much need — probably more — for the materials libraries offer.

We don't fault Ashland and Talent for working to get their libraries back; we just wish Jackson County as a whole had such an ambitious approach.

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