County libraries will start to open on Oct. 24

Closed indefinitely six months ago, libraries in Medford and Ashland will open their doors again to the public Wednesday, Oct. 24, and the remaining 13 branches will start the following week.

Maryland-based Library Systems and Services LLC, which was chosen by Jackson County commissioners to run the operation of the libraries, announced the reopening dates Monday and released proposed branch hours.

Mark L. Smith, transition team leader for the company known as LSSI, said computer problems prevented opening the libraries any sooner, though the start date is earlier than previously announced.

"The citizens of Jackson County have waited long enough to reopen their libraries," he said.

The libraries closed April 6 after the federal government failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act.

After the U.S. Congress passed a one-year extension of $23 million, the county decided to outsource the operations of libraries to keep them open for at least 21/2 years.

Because of limited funding, libraries will be open at roughly half the hours they were previously. The exceptions will be Ashland at 40 hours and Talent at 36 because these communities are paying for the extra time. All branches will be closed Sundays under the plan.

Rogue River will be open 28 hours a week because the community is paying for an extra four hours, while Medford will be open 24.

Commissioner C.W. Smith said he supports LSSI officials opening libraries as soon as possible. "I was very pleased to see how quickly they're moving," he said.

Smith said County Administrator Danny Jordan even called the governor's office to speed up the process of re-establishing an important Internet link for the library system that's under state contract.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour said he's pleased to see that some branches will be open until 6 or 7 p.m., which will give many residents a chance to check out books after work.

While some communities have already stepped forward to augment their hours, he said, "Medford is the big uncertain one at this point."

He said the city has yet to come forward with any plan to increase hours at what is the largest library in the system. Gilmour estimated it would cost the city about $300,000 to add a substantial number of hours.

The Library Advisory Board welcomed the hours of operation.

"It's wonderful to think we're going to step inside with those books again," said Kathleen Davis, chairwoman.

Davis asked whether there would be any chance of Sunday hours at the branches.

Mark Smith said Ashland officials have discussed the possibility of adding four Sunday hours.

Board member Genie Gilliam said she'd personally find it easier if there was one set closing time at all the branches. Smith said the hours of operation will be reviewed by each of the communities. Also, hours have been staggered at all the branches so patrons might be able to find a library open somewhere in the system at any given time.

More hours have generally been allotted to the first part of the week because those are typically the days of highest usage, said Smith.

Jim Olney, executive director of the Jackson County Library Foundation, said he visited Redding recently to check out how LSSI operates the three libraries there and to speak with his counterpart, Peggy O'Lea, president of the Shasta Library Foundation.

"They were extremely comfortable working with LSSI," he said.

Olney said LSSI also has a successful grant-writing program in Redding, which he liked to work on locally.

On his visit to the Redding library, he said there were plenty of patrons in the building.

"That place is just buzzing," he said.

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