Remember your roots. Weak and strong, they make up our foundation and hold us steady in tumultuous times. This month Josephine Community Libraries is celebrating its seventh birthday on January 24 — a reminder that we’ve come a long way. So, this blog is a tribute, not only to JCLI as an organization, but also to the people who, for whatever reason, moved it along its path in just the right way, at just the right moment — lest we forget from whence we came.
Josephine Community Libraries got its start at a public meeting at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church; but, really all the work happened in the living rooms of community members like Dick and Nancy Smith, Doug Walker, and Jennifer Roberts.
Wait. Actually, it was before that. The real beginning happened with closure. On May 17, 2007, after the failure of a sheriff’s levy, commissioners closed the library system due to lack of funds.
No wait. It was before that, when Measure 50 passed in the state of Oregon in 1997. Measure 50 allowed all governments agencies to turn current levies into permanent tax rates. The only levy available in Josephine County at the time was a three-year, 33-cent library levy. The commissioners opted to make the library levy a permanent rate and divert it to the sheriff’s department over time. With dwindling O&C funds and the lowest tax rate in the state, commissioners eventually closed the library when citizens voted down a sheriff’s levy in May 2007. Thanks to Measure 50, and the library, Josephine County government added 33 cents to the existing 25-cent rate, for today’s abysmal total of 58 cents.
Back to the closure in May 2007. After a measure to form a library district had also failed in November 2006, and the aforementioned sheriff’s levy failed in 2007, the collective community’s heart broke — or at least 47 percent of it. The other 53 percent who voted “no” to taxes danced a jig on the ashes of the library that closed on May 17.
Let’s take a moment to mourn. We grieve the loss of respect for knowledge and learning, if not the further erosion of trust in government.
Two months after that fateful day, the city editor for the Grants Pass Daily Courier wrote a column charging everyone who voted “yes” to rally, donate what they would have paid in taxes, and raise the money needed to reopen the library system. That editor was Kevin Widdison, and what happened next made history, at least for Josephine County residents. Over the following two weeks, Kevin was inundated with calls and emails about the idea, some of them even offering donations, all to help reopen the library. As a result, Kevin called a public meeting at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and passed the torch to a steering committee.
Steering Committee Members: Charlie Brown, Virginia Collins, Judy Christensen, Sharon Dilda, Dennis Doyle, Barbara Ketley, Cathye Mason, Dale Matthews, Linda Naydol, Patricia Snyder, Teresa Stover, Dave Toler, Jon Wacker, Doug Walker
From the first steering committee to the first board of directors, all of the founding members had one thing in common; they were willing to work hard. For Doug Walker and Jennifer Roberts, that work was inspired by their children.
Nine-year-old Maddy Walker was working on a class project to report on the state of the libraries. With the help of her dad, Maddy attended County Commissioner meetings and wrote a letter to the editor encouraging people to work together to reopen them. When Maddy found out that a steering committee had been formed, her sense of responsibility escalated, motivating her to ask her dad to help.
The steering committee was a scrappy crew who refused to allow naysayers to thwart the mission. Then-Commissioner Dave Toler, along with Dwight Ellis, helped the group secure a County government match for $300,000 ($70,000 of which was already library monies). It took the steering committee a year-and-a-half to raise the funds to match the grant. But, they did it with the help of thousands of donors.
By September of 2007, the group incorporated as the nonprofit Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. A couple months later, the first board of directors formed, with Doug Walker leading the charge as the board president. These folks, said “yes” at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason. Thanks to them, we have a library.
Founding Board Members: Brady Adams, Charlie Brown, Judy Christensen, Dennis Doyle, Susan Ellsworth, Corin Goodwin, Bill Kangas, David Mannix, Nicholas Morgan, Bill Peterson, Jennifer Roberts, Elayne Smith, Doug Walker
Jennifer Roberts says it best in this video from the Oregon Cultural Trust at minute 00:50. It makes me cry every time.
“I saw my six-year-old daughter and she was bawling. She was just dissolved in tears. That’s when I had to promise her that I would do whatever I could to get the library back.” Jennifer Roberts
The newly established board signed the lease for the four library buildings in Grants Pass, Illinois Valley, Williams, and Wolf Creek on December 8, 2008, and the “soft opening” happened on December 20. The official, grand reopening was on January 24, 2009, which is the day we celebrate.
For seven years now, Josephine Community Libraries has operated the four libraries. This organization is made up of hundreds of people, some who worked as volunteers when the library was funded by the County government. These folks serve thousands of residents of Josephine County, and they pinch hit for a government that continues to be unable to fund its chartered public services.
This month, we celebrate our roots. Next time you visit the Grants Pass branch, stop in the front foyer and read the names of the people in our community who stood up for libraries in 2008. They are what make our community a community in the first place. Thank you to the founding members — and happy birthday!
has been the executive director of Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. since 2010. She holds a master’s in education and serves on the Oregon Library Association Legislative and Development Committee. In 2015, she was honored by the with the Ole award which annually recognizes an Oregon public library employee who has displayed exceptional effort and excellence.