LA GRANDE — La Grande’s Cook Memorial Library has long offered basic library services to locals living outside La Grande. Starting May 1, nonresidents can purchase memberships that give them access to all of Cook Memorial’s services.
Library Director Kip Roberson explained Cook Memorial Library is making the move to distinguish between who lives inside the city limits of La Grande and who does not.
Residents of La Grande on a per capita basis spend approximately $50 annually in taxes to support library services, Roberson said, so they receive the full slate of what the library has to offer.
That covers basic library services — borrowing books, magazines and DVDs, attending programs and events, using the public access computers and borrowing e-books and e-audiobooks through Library2Go — as well as enhanced services. Those include access to platforms to stream movies and TV shows, expanded access to e-books and e-audiobooks, online career assistance and borrowing museum passes, Wi-Fi hotspots and ChromeKits. Roberson said those streaming services cost the library quite a bit of money each year.
Roberson said some people think of Cook Memorial as the county library, but it is not. Libraries in Baker and Umatilla counties, for example, receive their funding through a library district, and anyone living within the district can receive all the benefits of those libraries. But the Cook Memorial Library is a function of the city of La Grande.
Basic services have been available to library members who live outside the city limits because Union County pays $40,000 a year to La Grande so county residents can enjoy basic library services.
“They give us that funding to offset the cost of those services,” Roberson said. “No matter where you live, you can come to a story time, you can come to use a computer.”
The more extensive services have not been available to nonresidents of La Grande because they don’t pay the taxes that support those services. Starting May 1, however, nonresidents can purchase memberships to gain the full array of services. All-access, nonresident memberships break down as follows:
• $20 for one month and a limit of borrowing 12 items at a time
• $30 for six months
• $50 for 12 months
• $100 for 12 months for two or more household members at the same address
Implementing the change means the library had to clean up its patron database.
Union County’s population is about 27,000, but the database at the Cook Memorial Library said there were about 21,000 members with library cards. Roberson said there is no way the library was providing service to such a large chunk of the county’s population.
“We have had the system for over 10 years and they brought over all the records from the previous system. We have records that are old in there,” he said.
The database contains names of people who no longer live in the county, he said, such as former students at Eastern Oregon University who have departed. Keeping all those records also costs the library money.
Roberson said initially it looked like cleaning up the files would mean canceling every membership Cook Memorial had and asking everyone to rejoin. But Cook Memorial is among the 77 libraries in 15 counties of Eastern and Central Oregon that make up the Sage Library System, which also tracks library patrons. Data in the Sage system, he said, showed Cook Memorial had 9,532 active patrons as of the end of June 2020.
The number of local residents with a library card is an important statistic for libraries, Roberson said, because that number can affect funding, especially when seeking grants. Out of the library’s patrons, he said, almost 2,300 were not residents of La Grande. And those are the memberships that people have to renew.
“We spared our local patrons any pain,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s some pain for the others.”
La Grande residents who are library members will not see changes to their library membership, but they will have to verify contact information. And some could have to renew their card sooner than the three-year expiration date.
Cook Memorial Library card holders living within the city limits of Elgin, North Powder or Union will have to apply for a new library card from their home library because their old La Grande library card no longer will be valid. They will be able to use the new card at Cook Memorial for basic services there.
The most notable membership change will be for residents of Union County who live in communities without a public library: Island City, Cove, Imbler, Summerville and all the unincorporated areas. Anyone there with an existing account will need to convert the membership to a nonresident account, which includes a new library card and barcode number and will give them access to the library’s basic services at no cost to themselves.
Roberson, though, recommends upgrading. He said he knows of other libraries that charge more for what Cook Memorial provides, and the $50 nonresident 12-month membership is a solid deal for all the extra services it covers.