November 07, 2001 11:00 pm
LIBRARY DISTRICT MULLED: Ryan McGinnis checks out books to Vern Moore at the La Grande Public Library Wednesday afternoon. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).
LIBRARY DISTRICT MULLED: Ryan McGinnis checks out books to Vern Moore at the La Grande Public Library Wednesday afternoon. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Off and on over the years, the topic of a Union County-wide library district has come up for discussion. Former Eastern Oregon University Dean Jerry Young believes that now is the time for action.

Earlier this fall, Young gathered together about a dozen representatives from the countys small communities and La Grande to begin serious discussion of the feasibility of a library district. He took the idea to the Union County commissioners Wednesday.

County Commissioner John Howard, who has met with the informal committee, was asked by the commissioners to develop a possible list of candidates for a committee that would look into the matter.

We need to visit with the cities and find their level of comfort, Commissioner Steve McClure said. We need to sit down with all the players and develop a list of candidates and a process.

Young, a member of the state library board, envisions a main county library with branches in the larger rural communities and bookmobile service to all parts of the county.

Union County does not have a central library system, but county residents may use the city-owned La Grande Public Library at no cost. Cove, Elgin, Union and North Powder also have individual city libraries.

Young said several Oregon counties, including Baker, have library districts.

In Baker County the tax rate is 53.34 cents per $1,000 of property value or an annual cost of $53 on a $100,000 home, said Librarian Aletha Bonebrake.

A vote of the people would be required to form a county library district and set a tax rate.

The Baker Library District has a main branch in Baker City, four small-city branches and a bookmobile that travels through the county. The bookmobile even serves two small Union County communities: Medical Springs and Pondosa.

Theyre on our road. We serve ranchers out that way and its handy for us, Bonebrake said.

The tax limitation measures approved in the 1990s have negatively impacted Baker Countys operation, Bonebrake said. The small-city branches are open only nine hours a week, down from 15 hours in past years, and the bookmobile visits the smallest communities once a month.

All of the districts branches hire library workers.

We use volunteers in the main branch for special projects, Bonebrake said. We dont discourage volunteers. The problem with an all-volunteer library is that volunteers can make their own choices as to when they come in.

She praised the all-volunteer Cove Library.

Cove has a volunteer library thats beautifully run, she said. But it takes commitment by the community.

The county commissioners did not set a specific date to appoint a committee, but Howard said later that he hopes to be ready to make a recommendation by next month.