The job's not done yet

Visit Medford's library on a busy Saturday afternoon, and you'd never know it isn't all it might be.

Patrons stand absorbed at shelves, children skip happily around a courtyard outside their section and the line to check out a book is a dozen people long. The library is humming despite a six-month closure last year.

The company operating it through a contract with county government gives a sunny picture of how the job is going, and we think that's generally justified. The county has found a way to provide library service for the community despite a budget that for a while looked certain to doom it.

There's only one danger in all this, and that's that anyone decide that this progress means the job is done.

Look at the circulation numbers for Medford, and you can see that's not the situation at all. Circulation at the county's largest library, which should draw from all communities, was down nearly 30 percent last month from July 2006. It is down, in fact, at 10 of the county's 15 branches.

Not coincidentally, hours libraries are open are down as well by about a third overall and 48 percent in Medford.

This is service, but only the barest. Medford's library is closed three days a week and open only a few hours on the days it does operate. It's a schedule that requires careful planning for people who want to go, so it's no wonder circulation has been hurt.

Hours are scarce in smaller towns as well, but only Medford's building — the Central Library, as it's known — is large enough to serve a regional role.

The county has a budget crisis, one it has weathered in a much healthier fashion than others nearby. But county leaders found nearly $100,000 this year to increase the salaries of elected officials while maintaining they can't afford more time for the library. It's a matter of priorities, clearly.

The city of Medford has a role here, too — at least it should have one. Where are city leaders? Absolutely silent on the subject after a survey they commissioned showed most residents were unsure about whether they'd support new taxes for the library. That appeared to be the ammunition they needed to exit stage left.

Medford has service, it's true, but it is shoestring service, not service that sends a positive message about the community or truly meets the needs of residents.

We should do better. And with commitment and leadership from the people holding the purse strings, there's every reason to believe that's possible.

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