A few months ago, Keizerite Jane Herb hoped that a grant from the Oregon State Library might bring renewed focus to the effort of establishing a public library in city limits.
The grant didn’t arrive, but Herb learned that Keizer might be closer to accessing a full library’s services than it appeared.
“The grant application led to a critique and a meeting about what’s required for a library to be recognized as a public library in the state of Oregon. The Keizer Community Library is only missing one element, a half time librarian,” Herb said.
Herb thinks she’s even identified a funding source: annual revenue sharing payments from the state of Oregon. This year, the city accepted $383,000 from the state at its June 1 meeting. The annual cost for a half-time librarian would likely be somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $80,000 with benefits.
“I plan to ask that some of those funds be used for a part-time librarian,” she said.
Each year, the Keizer City Council holds a public hearing to take suggestions on how to use the funds, but it is exceedingly rare for anyone to turn out. The June 1 meeting was the first in-person meeting held by the council in almost three months.
Gaining recognition as a public library would mean the Keizer Community Library, which volunteers have steered for nearly three decades without any paid staff, could apply for full membership in the Chemeketa Community Library Service (CCRLS). CCRLS membership would mean that Keizer’s library patrons could request and return any book in the CCRLS district at the Keizer Cultural Center on Chemawa Road Northeast. The Keizer Community Library already meets the other standards required for recognition.
“The job would primarily be raising awareness and offering more programming,” Herb said.
Recognition by the Oregon Library Association would give the Keizer Community Library better standing when applying for grants to enhance its catalog, bolster services or establish itself in a building of its own.
While hiring a part-time librarian might appear as a low hurdle to clear, the path to recognition as a public library was not always so unobstructed. The Oregon Library Association revised and lowered the requirements in 2018.
The last time city residents made a push to establish a public library, attaining official recognition, felt lightyears away from the city’s capabilities. At the time, in 2008, the minimum the city needed was a 24,000-square-foot space, 64,000 books, 161 periodicals and at least 12 full-time employees.
Keizer, along with some other communities, proposed a much smaller library that focused on technology rather than physical copies of books and magazines. There was a catch, however, every time someone used the CCRLS to request a book through the proposed library, it would cost an additional $3 per request.
Proponents carried the torch and city councilors at the time agreed to put up half the money to put the issue on the ballot, but the effort fell apart with the onset of the housing crash and Great Recession that followed.
While Keizer resident are not permitted to access CCRLS amenities at the community library, a portion of the taxes residents pay goes toward supporting CCRLS. Keizer residents can receive a greatly reduced membership to the Salem Public Library for free or pay an annual fee for full access to the library’s collections and services.
In the meantime, Herb has established a Facebook group called Keizer’s Library: The Next Chapter (tinyurl.com/nxtchapter) for those who want to get involved in the effort, and launched an online book club that will get underway next month. Details on how to participate and the book selections are available on the Facebook page.