The Josephine Community Library we know today would not exist without the passion, commitment, and tireless contributions of thousands of staff, volunteers, and community members.
The county library system was originally formed in 1914, although the library’s closure in 2007 marked the end of county support for its public library system. In the late 90s, under Oregon State Measure 50, the county commissioners began shifting library funding to the general fund to support the sheriff’s department. Measure 50 allowed local governments 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. With dwindling funding from federal timber subsidies and the lowest tax rate in the state, commissioners opted to make the library levy a permanent rate and diverted it to law enforcement. To keep the library open, residents petitioned for a library district on the November 2006 ballot but lost by 53 percent. Commissioners made one last effort to fund the sheriff with a levy on the May 2007 ballot, and that also failed. They then closed the library. Thanks to Measure 50 and the library, Josephine County added 33 cents to its existing 25-cent rate, for today’s total of 58 cents for its general fund, none of which comes to the library.
A few months after that fateful day, the city editor for the Grants Pass Daily Courier wrote an editorial challenging everyone who voted yes for the library district to donate what they would’ve paid in taxes, and raise the money needed to reopen the library. That editor was Kevin Widdison, and what happened next made history. People started sending money to the Daily Courier to keep the library open. The Courier was not in a position to collect funds and operate a public library, so Kevin called a public meeting at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and passed the torch to a steering committee.
From the first steering committee to the first board of directors, all the founding members had one thing in common; they were volunteers willing to work hard. Then-Commissioners Dwight Ellis and Dave Toler helped the group secure a county government match of $300,000. It took a year-and-a-half to raise the funds to match the grant. They did it with the help of thousands of donors and hundreds of volunteers, many of whom still support the library to this day.
By December 2009, the nonprofit had reopened all four shuttered locations in Grants Pass, Illinois Valley Williams, and Wolf Creek. Many of those same volunteers also worked on three separate campaigns to create permanent, stable funding through the formation of a library district. In 2017, almost exactly ten years after the initial closure, voters countywide supported the effort. The following January, Josephine Community Library opened its doors with public funding, albeit on a tight budget.
It took many partners to form the library district.
Little could have been accomplished without the nonprofit Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. Special thanks are also due to Josephine Community Library Foundation and the Josephine County government, the cities of Grants Pass and Cave Junction, and the generous volunteers, donors, and staff members who successfully transitioned public library operations to the district. Together, they have led the community to work and build together, demonstrating that we have the resilience, strength, and fortitude to build a brighter future for Josephine County residents.