Okay, it's sinking in now. Martha Bennett, our able city administrator said it a couple of months ago at a brainstorming session, "I can't imagine Ashland without its library."




About most anything else I'd just say, "I guess I will have to get used to doing without," except that in this case I don't think I can.




It's not a library &

it's our community center. It's the heart of our town. Its closing was (and continues to be) unthinkable. The closing of each of the fifteen branches is just as appalling, if you ask me. This sad occasion has me thinking of how much we have in common with all the other little towns in our valley.




"I wish we could call FEMA; this feels like a natural disaster to me," said Ted Stark, interim library director for Jackson County.




"Libraries are so much more than just libraries in rural areas. This is where all the town meetings are held, where all the kids come after school, where everything &

everything &

happens," he said.




Marilyn May, interviewing Stark for The San Francisco Chronicle, put it this way: "Today's libraries have evolved from merely loaning out books to providing Internet access, reading hours for babies, community meeting centers, and art galleries."




What have we done to fill the gap? Last Friday a couple of dozen of us crowded (and I mean, we crowded) into the loft at Bloomsbury Books to hear a marvelous author, Rhys Bowen, present her rain-soaked, Welsh-steeped detective fiction.




Bless Bloomsbury for offering the space, but without an elevator frailer mystery buffs were left out.




Speaking of mystery buffs left out in the cold &

I read that last March for the last time Pat Hardy hefted two book bags stuffed with "cozy murder mysteries" through the snow to Ella Fitzsimmons' front door at Medford's Blue Spruce Mobile Estates trailer park.




"I brought you extra, because this will be your final delivery," said Hardy, who has been bringing "bloodless whodunits" to the homebound 78-year-old every month for the last several years.




I know Ashlanders are out there already, organizing, saying to themselves, "we don't need this county. We can fund our own branch. The heck with the Philistines north of us." Ouch. But hey, what about Ella? I'm fearful this crisis and what we choose to do about it will just exacerbate the notion of Ashland arrogance.




Sure, like so many of you, I live here because of the richness of our arts community, our college, the life we have here. But the rest of Jackson county is rich, too. And each of the county's libraries has its own charm and has engendered its own pride.




Have you taken a look at the gorgeous foyer at Talent's new library &

the cascade of jumbo salmon-pink conch shells that welcome readers, or the wonderful mural at the Ruch branch? It was a total community effort. Ruchans of all ages made the pieces and pressed them into a cement backing: there are these cute black bears, covered wagons, Canada geese, lumberjacks, and Bigfoot peeking from behind a tree. The fire chief even pressed his badge into the mural. It's terrific.




Ruch artist Marvin Rosenberg has said, "This place is our home. This is our community center. This is where we problem-solve. They can't take this away." But they have.




Yeah, we college townies will do what we have to do to reopen our heart's home, but allow me to ask Ashlanders to think about what's good for the whole valley because it's all ours. We are richer because of the white ridges of the Rogue River. We are richer because Jacksonville has such a colorful history, and gave the country (not just the county) one of its best photographers. Talent, for my money, has the best views in the valley. I could go on and on.




Let me close by saying that my heart is aching for the 100 or so former employees of the county system who were so hopeful and worked so hard to reopen the doors.




Supervisor Laurel Prchal of the Talent library opened that sparkling new branch just six weeks before the closing. She raised the flag to its apex, paused, and then lowered it to half-mast. An Oregon soldier had been killed in Iraq. And now, after our sad election, I feel like someone else has died.




Scott Dalgarno is pastor of Ashland's First Presbyterian Church.