LSSI: So far, so good

When Jackson County first announced it was outsourcing the operation of its libraries to a for-profit management company, there was understandable concern among many library users. Would the quality of library services suffer?

Eight months after Maryland-based LSSI began running the county's libraries, the answer seems to be no.

Yes, operating hours are sharply reduced from what was offered before the libraries closed in 2007, except in those communities that raised local taxes to extend hours in their branch. And yes, many of the special programs the libraries previously offered were not immediately restored. But that is changing.

As a story in Saturday's newspaper detailed, LSSI has been busy working to bring those programs back. Thanks in part to volunteers and fundraising efforts, nearly all the programs offered before the closure are again available, and some new ones have been added.

Thanks to a donation from Wal-Mart, the popular summer reading program will be offered at all branches. And a new summer reading program aimed at day-care centers and organizations serving children has been added.

Outreach programs, to day-care centers and to the homebound, are back in operation.

During the extended community debate over a proposed tax levy to reopen the libraries, many community residents suggested that volunteers should be used in place of paid staff as a money-saving measure. Of course, volunteers have always been an integral part of the county libraries, augmenting what the paid staff were and are able to provide.

That contribution continues. For example, a new program at the Eagle Point branch is being sponsored by that community's Friends of the Library group.

We're pleased to see valuable programs restored that take library service beyond merely checking out books. And we would like to see more.

Computer classes should be extended beyond Ashland, the only branch where they are presently offered. Story times should be expanded as much as possible.

That's not to say that everything is wonderful. Library hours are far too limited in most communities, and especially at the Medford main branch.

A solid library system is essential to a healthy community. We're not there yet.

But that's a funding issue, and that's not LSSI's fault.

It's ours.

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