Only we can heal the wound

It's a pinkie bandage on our gaping wound, the deal announced Wednesday from the halls of Congress: A new bill will revive a year — but no more — of federal payments to Oregon timber counties, including this one.

We should shout hooray, for it has often looked this spring as if the yes-we-have-the-money, no-we-don't scale was tipping decisively in the no-we-don't direction.

For Jackson County, for the record, that's $23 million annually we don't have and the cause of all 15 branches of the county library system closing last month.

So we'll let out a happy hoot for whatever we get from the government, but it's a qualified one. Because while the money should allow the county to reopen libraries in some form, it will not advance even an inch the larger problem of how Jackson County will pay for libraries beyond one year.

Despite persistent efforts by lawmakers and what may be right, it is clear no one here should look for continued federal payments to support county services.

Where should we look, then? To ourselves. Not to another request for an $8 million library levy. Voters have said no twice.

No, listen closely and you'll hear all sorts of other library maybes floating around the community:

Open the buildings for fewer hours. Open fewer buildings. Staff some of them, sometimes, with volunteers. Outsource the entire operation to a private firm.

Have the county foot the bill for administration and the cities for operation, if their councils approve. Use federal funding to pay off the 2000 building bond measure, and establish a library district to pay for ongoing operations.

Tap the county's rainy-day fund. Operate a bookmobile. Involve schools. Privatize the whole deal.

If they're unlikely solutions, and some are, that's OK. They're ideas, potential starting points for a much-needed community conversation about how we get our libraries back.

The county has a citizens group working on ways to address its budget problems, but it needs more than one group's work in a vacuum. As a Medford council member suggested last week, to find the best-suited solution the county needs engagement from everyone who's got a stake in this.

That should include councils and mayors of all the cities, educators, critics of county government who promise they'd support libraries if only the county would get its act together and regular people who want to read library books again.

It's a time for many minds to come together to find the answer to this. The federal government may hand us another bandage, but it isn't going to heal the wound.

Doing that is up to us.

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