It is said that Keizer is the only city of its size in the United States without a tax-supported public library. I don’t know if it is true or not but let’s assume that it is. Why then are its residents being deprived of this amenity, this symbol of learning and cultural achievement? There appear to be a number of reasons – historical, political and economic.
Keizer, for a city of its size, is a late bloomer. Formerly a suburb of Salem, it was incorporated in 1982, long after most communities in Oregon – communities that already had public libraries. Keizer was established, in large measure, to resist becoming a part of Salem. A conservative element committed to keeping services and taxes low, dominated the scene then as it does today.
Then there is the opportunity for residents of Keizer to use nearby Salem Public Library, albeit for a charge that some consider reasonable. The trouble is that there are many people living in Keizer for whom the necessary travel is inconvenient or not affordable – young people, old people, parents with small children, etc. This is evidenced by the growing popularity of Keizer Community Library despite the fact that it lacks meeting, reading and study areas for adults, youth and children or the space to display more than a fraction of its available resources.
A series of City Council appointed task forces have attempted to determine whether or not the residents of Keizer want and would be willing to pay for a public library. Studies, commissioned by the City, assumed that a library must necessarily meet standards of size, resources and staffing generally associated with those of similar communities. Expected costs make it appear that pubic acceptance would be unlikely, particularly in difficult economic times.
Perhaps the most pressing problem facing the present Keizer Community Library is insufficient space. Recently, the library’s board of directors appointed an advisory committee and challenged it to help solve the problem. A number of alternatives, ranging from acceptance of a taskforce proposal for the building of a new library to the purchase of a used step van for use as a bookmobile, are being considered. We’ll keep you posted.
Art Burr is Executive Director of the Keizer Community Library, an all-volunteer organization housed at the Keizer Heritage Center.