OPINION M26-211: Libraries need space for students and others
I'm both a teacher and a parent of a young child. So, I'm getting a double dose of distance learning and the challenges that come along with it.
Teaching while also parenting my daughter, whose elementary school class meets remotely, I can hardly take a breath all day long. I know so many families are dealing with these same challenges right now.
As a teacher, I've always relied on our local libraries. I'm able to check out lots of books and access special services that Multnomah County Library offers to schools. Kids in my classroom get a bag of books through the "Every Child A Reader" program, which delivers new books to students each week. You can see the light in their eyes as they learn a love of reading.
The library is also a go-to resource for our family. Spanish was my first language and we are raising my daughter to be bilingual. We started bringing her to the library as a baby, attending storytimes in Spanish and checking out books.
But libraries across Multnomah County are small and out of date. COVID-19 has made this problem much more urgent.
Take my neighborhood branch, the Holgate Branch Library. It was built way back in 1971. Since then, Multnomah County's population has grown by nearly 50%, but our library is still the same size it was on the day it opened nearly 50 years ago.
Some of our county library branches are even older. The North Portland branch was built in 1913 and has never once been expanded.
We've had decades of rapid population growth without making a significant investment in our small, aging library buildings.
The impact is clear: Librarians are regularly forced to turn away families from storytimes and reading programs due to lack of space.
In many branches, there's no space for reading or homework. In others, people are crammed together just to get to a computer screen. Resume classes fill up fast. Not enough study space, less computer and Internet access, and too little space for children's reading programs.
In East Portland and East County this lack of library space is particularly acute. Fully 40% of the county's population lives east of I-205, but they have only 20% of county library space.
That's why I'm voting yes on Measure 26-211, the library bond. It will add library space so students like mine and families across the county can get more help catching up after months of distance learning.
The library bond will add a new East County Flagship branch in Gresham, one as big as Portland's Central Library in downtown. Another seven branches across the county will get major expansions and upgrades.
Measure 26-211 will install ultra-high-speed Internet in every county library branch, which will be available for free to the public. If there's anything I've learned over the last few weeks of distance learning and online teaching, it's that high-speed Internet is no longer a convenience. It's now a necessity of life.
As a teacher and a parent, I've always relied on our libraries. Now, with kids catching up from missed time in the classroom and job seekers looking for new opportunities, our libraries will be even more important than ever.
Voting yes for our libraries will ensure we have space for students, job seekers and the people who need it the most.
Andreina Velasco is a teacher in the David Douglas School District.
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