Library supporters today stare into a stark new reality. The Jackson County libraries are not about to be opened anytime soon.




Solutions to reopen them, and somehow ensure they stay open, are not going to come easy, because voters have made it clear they are unwilling to pay for the current system.




The failure of the levy &

now twice defeated by opponents &

is not an indictment of libraries, but a strong statement of affordability and priority. This library system is too big, too costly and people are too broke to pay for things once considered foundational.




To be sure, the failure of the library is a failure to listen. It is also a colossal failure of leadership.




Voter ignorance did not doom the November levy that would have ensured operational funds for the library system. People understood their vote could lead to the closure we see now. Many who voted against the library said they did so with a sad heart. They weren't opposed to libraries, they were opposed to the high cost of them. They expected an alternative plan. They expected to see something that recognized the will of the voters determined to reduce the cost.




Instead, voters were given the same levy. Those that put it forward were convinced that the reality of closed libraries and system-wide layoffs would turn the vote. Not only did it not change the vote, it barely moved the needle. Roughly the same number voted 'no' in both elections.




With the intense discussion of the state of library funding over the past few months, virtually none of it centered on a compromise that could build a broad base of support. Much of the debate focused on the polar extremes, that is, the almost divine right of libraries versus the view that libraries are antiquated and unneeded.




This push toward polarization is costing us plenty. Everything fails because it is far easier to defeat something than to muster a compromise. Polarized debate has seen the hard work of many crumble at the end on any number of issues.




In the absence of leadership that builds connections, a scorched-earth philosophy of division results. It is far easier to be against everything, than to find something that many can support.




Leadership requires reaching across the aisle, so to speak, and working with political opponents. It also requires listening, trying to understand those who disagree with you. That hasn't happened much recently. It didn't happen with the failed charter amendments, and it didn't happen with the still closed libraries.




The libraries are a symbol of a failed approach, a divided community and a city that is losing much of what it cares about.




If libraries are to return, a new, fiscally responsible, creative approach will be needed. Even if congressional funding is restored temporarily, lawmakers know a permanent funding solution will only come close to home.




Today, the Ashland Budget Committee will discuss the merit of an Ashland-only funding solution to reopen our library. They can take the first step in this approach, and be wary of simply tossing money at the problem. As we've seen from many reports, the city is facing tough cuts across the board, so fiscal stewardship is required in addition to our strong desire to reopen the library.




Reopening our library in a financially responsible, civic-minded way should become the first step to find common ground for progress and agreement in our city.