Can we please get a library?

Do Keizer voters not like libraries, or, is it they don’t like paying fees?

That will have to be addressed by the Keizer Community Library and the City of Keizer.

Measure 24-468 was defeated in the Nov. 8 election by a 10-point margin. If approved, it would have added a $2.50 per month library services fee to Keizer’s city services bill. There are two other fees currently on that bill: one to add funding for Keizer Police and one for Keizer’s parks; together they total $9 per month.

Passage of the measure was always going to be a  heavy lift. People are not in the mood to see more fees (or taxes) added to their monthly expenses. Inflation continues to take a bite out of every family’s budget so when they are asked to add a fee, the answer is clear.

The Keizer Community Library is an all-volunteer organization housed at the Keizer Cultural Center. The library was born more than 30 years ago as The Reading Connection at the original city hall. It relocated to the Keizer Heritage Center (now the Keizer Cultural Center) more than 20 years ago.

For more than three decades the library has served the reading and research needs of Keizerites of all ages. Many dedicated volunteers who assisted visitors, conducted events such as children’s reading programs and author appearances. 

It has always been the little library that could.

There were a number of task forces created by the city council to investigate how to turn it into a public library. The constant obstacle during those talks was the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library System (CCRLS), which comprises 17 libraries in the region and is run by an executive director and board. There was one objection or another and the task forces were stymied again and again.

Measure 24-468 was the closest the city has gotten to having a public library. The yes vote was 5,271 versus 6,469 no votes. Mayor Cathy Clark was, and still is, an avid supporter of a public library. Several city councilors, too, were vocal supporters. There was campaign advertising, a social media campaign, yard signs and door knocking by volunteers. Yet, the measure could not make it across the finish line.

Is there a villain in all of this? Yes. Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library System. 

Earlier this year, the library board testified before the Keizer City Council, seeking approval for a ballot measure to ask voters to fund a public library. At that council meeting the executive director of CCRLS testified about the Keizer Community Library in glowing terms, practically guaranteeing member status for the library if 50% of its funding came from the public, thus the ballot measure asking for a monthly fee.

The city council and the community library board were heartened by CCRLS’s assurances and marched forward with a plan. And then…

A few months later the CCRLS director sent a letter to the city manager plunging a stake in the heart of a public library plan. The bottom line was that Keizer would never become a member of CCRLS primarily because of its size. CCRLS was looking for a plan for a 10,000 square foot library building, a requirement Keizer could not meet.

If the executive director CCRLS remained true to his word and put the system to work campaigning for passage of Measure 24-468, Keizer would be celebrating now rather than facing an uncertain future.

The city council has approved $60,000 in ARPA money to fund the community library through 2023. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

The heroes in all of this are the board of the community library, especially B.J. Toewe, and Mayor Cathy Clark, who will work to find a way to get a public library.