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Libraries ask voters to turn page on future.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

On a recent Saturday night, dozens of folks - homemade pies in hand - gathered at the community center in Creswell.

A group of kids sang songs and, once the keyboard was unplugged so the extension cord could be used for the portable sound system, Carol Campbell took the microphone. She proceeded to give a rousing speech not for Kerry, Bush or any of the hot-button issues on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Instead, she rallied the troops to help create a new Creswell Library by voting yes on Measure 20-87. And when she announced that a deal had been struck to lease space for it in an old hardware store on Oregon Avenue - providing the measure is approved - the cheers burst forth, almost as if Creswell's favorite son, Luke Jackson, had suddenly appeared.

Library measures rarely get people too emotional. But in Creswell and Veneta, they should. They should have people stepping up and voting to invest in something of extreme importance to their communities: a place to access knowledge. A place to tap the imagination. And a place to help define their communities as distinctive towns rather than appendages to Eugene and Springfield.

"Libraries," Fern Ridge Library Director Rozella Van Meter says, "are an important way to self-educate. You have to read to be a citizen, to live in a democracy, to vote."

You can understand if Van Meter is extra passionate this year. The Fern Ridge Library has twice experienced the agony of defeat. In 2002, a proposal to renew the library district's operating levy failed by 28 votes.

Last year, the levy passed by more than 2 to 1, but fewer than 50 percent of the district's voters cast ballots so the "win" was nullified.

Now, Measure 20-101 would renew a local-option levy to support the library. If it fails, the library expects to cut its hours by as much as half and scale back all other expenses.

That'd be a tragic blow to a community that's justifiably proud of a 10,000-square-foot library that serves not only Veneta, where it's located, but Elmira, Noti and Walton. A debt-free library that was built with donations and grants.

"Without the levy, this won't be the same library," says Earle Ellson, chairman of the committee backing the measure. "To have the community put in so much hard work to build this place, then to not be able to operate it would be nothing short of a tragedy."

Unlike Veneta, Creswell has never had anything but an all-volunteer-run library that, for now, is housed in a 130-year-old schoolhouse provided, rent-free, by the city.

But in the past two years, a contingent of library believers has positioned Creswell to get the "real thing": a 3,500-square-foot library that would be more than three times the size of the current Cracker Jacks box. And a full-time librarian to boot.

"We have a unique opportunity to improve the level of library services much more rapidly and at a much lower cost than members of the foundation originally thought," says Helen Hollyer, vice president of the Creswell Public Library Foundation.

When the organization started two years ago, experts told backers it would take 10 to 12 years to get a modern library funded and built. But the option to lease could have the new library up and running by next fall, though tax money for it wouldn't be due until the end of 2005.

Yes, people who pay nothing now will have to ante up; the Creswell levy will mean $59 more per year in taxes for owners of a $100,000 house. But that not only will provide a new building with double the collection, but it will do so in an ideal location - downtown, within walking distance of the grade school and middle school.

The Fern Ridge levy will cost owners of a $100,000 house $25 more per year in taxes.

In both cases, that's not insignificant money to, say, single-parent families and seniors on fixed incomes. But as Bob Chandler, my former boss at The Bulletin in Bend, used to say: "If you're going take up space in a community, you have to pay rent."

And libraries are rent well spent.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 12, 2004
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