April 27, 2007 11:00 pm

From 2002 through 2007, members of the Union County Library District Feasibility Committee researched and prepared a proposal to support public library service of uniform quality for all areas of the county.

Why would a dozen people give five years of volunteer time to help public libraries? The following statements will illustrate why we feel this work is so important and why we hope that you, the citizens of Union County, will carry it forward.

• One half of adult Americans function at the lowest two levels of literacy proficiency. (National Adult Literacy Survey)

• 49.8 percent of Americans do not have access to computers or the Internet in their homes. (US Census, 2000)

• The unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma is 16.3 percent, compared to 6.4 percent for high school graduates. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006)

• Young children living in circumstances that place them at greater risk for school failure (low income or low educational attainment levels of parents) are much more likely to succeed if they attend well-planned, high-quality, early education programs. (Report from Institute for Education, Birth through Kindergarten School Readiness)

• (There is a) shift in the role of public libraries – from a passive, recreational reading and research institution to an active economic development agent, addressing such pressing urban issues as literacy, workforce training, small business vitality and community quality of life. (Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development, ULC and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

• Oregonians use their libraries. Oregon ranks second in the nation in per capita circulation of books and other materials from public libraries. (Oregon State Library)

These are just a few of the reasons for having public libraries in Union County that offer excellent collections of current materials, children's literature programs, services for the elderly, support for economic and community development and opportunities for citizen's to continue learning long after they've left the classroom behind.

The intent of forming a library district is simple and straightforward: to immediately bring all public libraries in Union County up to an adequate level of professional service and initiate a plan to move forward towards excellence. The cost associated with achieving the details of "adequate service" would be raised by a tax rate of $0.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value. If you are not sure what this means to you, visit the Union County Assessor's webpage at

Look up your address. Find your property's assessed value. Divide this amount by 1,000 then multiply by 0.85. Owners of an average, $100,000 home would pay $85 per year.

When you think in terms of other costs we pay for information, education and entertainment including cable television, Internet access, newspaper or magazine subscriptions, or even a paperback book, you will see that $7.08 per month is quite a bargain.

Is this too high a cost for library service? Our neighbors in Baker County are similarly rural, agriculturally based and fiscally conservative. Yet, although they have 33 percent fewer people and $23 million less in assessed value than Union County, they consistently and overwhelmingly support their superb library district at the rate of $0.78.4/1,000 AV. This is a higher rate per capita than we would see in Union County.

Union County is a wonderful place to live, do business and raise families. It is also a place where it is difficult to find family wage jobs, where the median household income is $7,000 a year less than the state median, where 41 percent of those over age 25 have a high school or less level of education and where most school districts can no longer provide certified school librarians.

In a world where continual learning, adequate literacy skills and technological proficiency will offer the only secure path to prosperity, the public library stands as an open door for equal access to success.

The Union County Commissioners, understanding the importance of libraries to an economically, culturally and educationally healthy community, have made it possible to begin the next stage in forming a library district. Next month, the Library Service District Advisory Committee will begin transforming the district proposal into an actionable, detailed plan. This plan will then go to the cities for review before the voters make the ultimate decision in May 2008.

The members of the feasibility committee are your neighbors and friends. We believe in strong public libraries as mainstays of access to information, technology, personal achievement, literacy, diversity of thought and forums for community action. Some may ask, "Are libraries still relevant?"

To this we answer, it is only those libraries that are neglected, under-supported and allowed to stagnate that are in danger of becoming obsolete.

Good libraries reflect a healthy community. Let's work together to support libraries in Union County.

Union County Library District Feasibility Committee: Jerry Young, Doc Savage, Shirley Roberts, Sharon Porter, Karen McIlmoil, Theresa Chandler, Joe Garlitz, Nancy Free-Klein, John Van Schoonhoven, Jennie Tucker, Donna Patterson, Karen Campbell

Union County residents interested in applying for a position on the newly formed Library Service District Advisory Committee may obtain application materials by

calling the county administrative office at 963-1001.