County could allow libraries to designate operational funds for capital improvements

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Sandy Library Director Sarah McIntyre said she is not so concerned that city of Sandy won't continue to support the library. The Friends of the Sandy Library also help support the library with a $260,000 endowment and constant fundraisers. Clackamas County is revising it's library district master order in the new year. The Sandy Public Library staff is concerned that though the district was initially formed to benefit the libraries in the area, this revision could have "unintended consequences" for libraries like Sandy's.

The revisions will create language allowing for individual libraries to allocate revenue intended for operational expenses for capital improvements.

The order was created by the county in 2008, which created the library district, and essentially "let the county off the hook financially" for the libraries' expenses. The county originally paid $6.4 million a year to operate the network of libraries.

Now, with the revision, the district and cities may be off the hook to finance them into the future.

"It opens the door to begin to change the entire environment of funding for the library service," explained George Hoyt, president of the Friends of the Sandy Library.

Sandy Library Director Sarah McIntyre and Hoyt are worried the revision may mean some libraries will stop using their operational funds to buy books for their collections, and start setting them aside as capital funds, meaning they'd rely on other libraries to eat the cost of new books and subsidize their collections.

Sandy Public Library is already a net lender in the district's system — it lends more books out to partnering libraries than it takes books in — and McIntyre fears other libraries, given the chance, may capitalize on that.

They're also concerned that if those libraries can't fully service their community with the books they want when they want them, the strain might be put on other libraries, like Sandy and possibly Estacada.

Besides cutting down on buying books, libraries may end up cutting staff, hours or other operational budget items to designate more funds to capital projects.

"This is like giving free money to cities that never have enough money," Hoyt noted. "It opens the doors to degrading the libraries in the county."

West Linn suffered from a major influx of customers when Oregon City cut its operational hours down to 23 hours a week, and almost couldn't handle the sudden increase in demand.

This could lead to a lessening of access for Sandy bibliophiles if a neighboring library cuts their staff and hours. The result could be more of their customers coming to Sandy and making the act of checking out books more competitive. Libraries already operate on a first-come-first-serve system. How long would you be willing to wait for that novel you've been dying to read?

Luckily, McIntyre said, when it comes to funding Sandy is an "anomaly."

"Sandy (has given) money to keep the library at threshold funding," she explained. "We're the only east side library so (fully funded) by our city."

That said, she is not so concerned that the city of Sandy won't continue to support the library. The Friends also help support the library with a $260,000 endowment and constant fundraisers. But, she does still see the priorities of many of her fellow library directors changing. Many libraries, like other businesses, are feeling an economic strain, and with this freedom may be more inclined to spend money on better facilities than the books they hold.

"Within five years the landscape could look much different," McIntyre added. "I know about half of the libraries are (supportive of ) having capital money. It's kind of scary. It sets the stage for a whole new world, (but) we're going to keep doing what we're doing."

The meeting of the Library District Advisory Committee Meeting to decide on the revised order is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3 in Room 119 of the Development Services Building, 150 Beavercreek Road, Oregon City. The public is welcome to attend.

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