Help Portland’s Libraries

By Erika Moen on December 19, 2011

UPDATE: May 1, 2012
Hey folks! For up-to-date information please check out Keep Our Libraries Open, the letter below is now somewhat out of date :)

You guys, I love the library. Especially this year, where I’ve been really relying on the library as my primary resource for researching my next comic project– it’s saved me so much money and space that I would have had to use up if I were buying books that I was only planning on reading once. And, of course, libraries have always been my “happy place” since childhood, so just going into one fills me with delight.

Which is why it’s so upsetting to hear that Portland’s libraries are at immediate risk of losing 33% of their funding and will have to lay off 80-100 people in 2012.


My good friend Katie Lane (Remember her from the Freelancer Roundtable 2011 post?) is very involved in the innerworkings of Portland’s libraries and has authored this letter rallying help.

If you’re a Portlander who cares about our libraries, please give it a read through and contact the people she lists to let them know our libraries need to be protected!



As you know, I am a library nerd. In addition, I am currently the Chair of the Multnomah County Library Advisory Board. We are, as the name suggests, a purely advisory organization. For nearly 20 years we’ve been advising that the library be funded through a permanent, dependable mechanism to avoid the threat of losing library services every time a levy is up for a vote. It appears, unfortunately, that the Advisory Board will be ignored, yet again.

A brief summary of public funding for the library:

  • The Library is currently funded through two mechanisms: a temporary levy, set to expire in June of 2012, and a contribution from Multnomah County’s general fund.  The levy currently accounts for 66% of the library’s funding.
  • For the last few years the Advisory Board has been advocating for a library district to replace the levy.  A district is a permanent means of funding the library.  Once approved, the rate cannot change.  As a district, the library remains a portion of public government accountable to the voters.
  • At this point, voting for either a levy or a district that will fund the library at its current service level will raise property taxes.  The current rate is $0.89 per $1,000 assessed.  At a minimum the district rate would need to be $1.17.  The highest (and safest) rate being discussed for a levy is $1.24.
  • The reason for the difference in the rates is that levies are more susceptible to something called “compression,” which roughly translates into a reduction that happens when less than what was expected is collected.  Districts are not as susceptible to compression.
Chair Cogen has announced he will not support a district or a levy that funds the library at current rates.   He’s proposing a renewal at the current rate of $0.89.  He’s said the County will contribute additional cash to lessen the blow, but even with that contribution services would be significantly reduced and it is estimated that nearly 20% of library staff (80-100 people) would be laid off.

I and the Oregonian agree for perhaps the first time in history: this is unacceptable.

Chair Cogen, Commissioner Kafoury and Commissioner Smith don’t think Multnomah County voters will agree to fully fund their library.  They don’t think we have the stomach to vote to provide permanent, stable funding for an institution that plays a vital role in the health, welfare and education of our community.

Tell them they’re wrong.

What you can do: 
1. Come to the public meeting on Thursday, December 22nd to sign up for 3 minutes of public testimony.  Arrive at the County Building at SE Grand and Hawthorne at 9:15, fill out a yellow public comment form, and tell the Commissioners you support your library.  The more people we have there, the better.

2.  Call Chair Cogen, Commissioner Kafoury and Commissioner Smith and tell them you support the library.  Tell them what you think of the Chair’s plan to underfund the library.
3.  Write Chair Cogen, Commissioner Kafoury and Commissioner Smith to let them know where you stand.  Fill their inboxes with messages of support for our library.
4. Tell your friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers on the street of the threat the library is facing.  Twitter, Facebook, your blog, carrier pigeons: whatever you use to tell people about things that are important to you.  Feel free to forward this email.  Ask that they attend the meeting, call or write in their support.


Thanks for reading, I hope you’ll help me in contacting these people and letting them know we love our libraries.

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