Dreaming of a Public library

Keizer newcomers typically have a number of questions when they arrive, among the most frequent is: where’s the library? 

Depending on who is answering, there are two potential answers. The first answer involves the all-volunteer Keizer Community Library, which has performed as valiantly as anyone could ask for three decades but still has limited hours, space and resources. The second answer is: Salem. 

For Keizerite Jane Herb, neither of those answers pass muster. 

“The Keizer Community Library has been resilient, and it’s a great start, but we are so close to being a public library – one full time position away from meeting the qualifications,” said Herb, who started organizing a grassroots effort last year to establish a public library in Keizer and, potentially, some of the outlying Marion County areas like Brooks and Gervais. 

Previously, city officials formed three different task forces to explore the possibilities of a Keizer library, the last made its final recommendations as the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008. 

Herb is building on some of the earlier efforts, but she’s also casting a much wider net. She’s found a number of local supporters to serve as an advisory board and is enlisting the help of the EveryLibrary Institute, a national political action committee that assists in establishing new libraries and maintaining old ones, among others. Herb has also applied for a grant through the Oregon State Library to re-enlist the help of Ruth Metz Associates, which consulted on the last library task force. 

Herb’s interest in moving the issue forward comes from raising three school-age children in the city and as a business development manager at Baker & Taylor which has allowed her to visit libraries throughout the country and see their impact. Baker & Taylor is a book distributor specializing in libraries and schools. 

“Libraries aren’t dusty old warehouses of books anymore,” Herb said. “They bring people up out of poverty by giving them access to the internet or loaning out hotspots so residents can have wifi in their home. Libraries are critical to the structure of our society and democracy.”

While books remain the most circulated items, the spaces libraries become are fertile areas of innovation. Some recent efforts include renting out garden plots, adding Maker spaces with items like 3D printers and helping kids talk to parents in prison. 

Late last year, Herb applied for a $45,000 grant through the Oregon State Library to rehire Ruth Metz and it has already made it through the first round of scrutiny. She will find out in May if the Keizer project qualified and work toward putting the question of establishing a special library district to voters in the fall of 2021 or spring of 2022. The grant request included endorsements from the executive director of the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service (CCRLS), Rep. Bill Post and two members of the Chemeketa Board of Education. 

Keizer is the largest city in Oregon without a public library. Herb envisions a library with 10 to 15 paid staff members, including certified librarians that would qualify the library for CCRLS membership, about 90,000 items and bevy of public access computers and public wifi. CCRLS membership would allow the library to qualify for additional funding and opportunities like interlibrary loaning, cataloguing and a exponentially faster internet connectivity. 

The cost is estimated to be about $1.3 million annually, which includes a materials budget of roughly $75,000 per year. If voters were to approve the creation of a special library district, the cost would be about $30 per capita. That is roughly half what it costs to pay for a full, annual membership at the Salem Public Library for current Keizer, Brooks and Gervais residents.

“My dream would be brand new construction with some sort of beautiful outdoor space that reflects Oregon and wired for 21st Century use,” Herb said. 

If the grant succeeds, Herb will begin planning community outreach efforts. Residents interested in taking part should watch the Keizer Community Library website,