As leaders at all levels of government debate various plans for the future of Jackson County libraries, and the Ashland City Council prepares a tax levy to reopen Ashland's library on its own, a variety of other ideas are popping up around town as well.

Tuesday, one such effort, organized by a small group of readers met on the front steps on the now-closed Ashland Library to trade books with one another.

"We're celebrating the library as the center of our community," said JoAnne Eggers, who organized the informal book swap. "We're hoping we can go back inside soon."

Eggers sent out an e-mail last week, saying that swapping books in front of the library would be a good way score a good read "as well as to call attention to what an important part of our community the public library is."

She wrote, "Meet me on the steps near the front door of the Ashland Public Library Tuesday at noon. Bring a book or two you are willing to pass along to someone who might enjoy reading it. We could do this every Tuesday and Thursday noon, plus maybe Wednesday evening at 5 for a while. Let's just start with this Tuesday and see what happens. Bring a book. Bring a friend and pass along this message."

Although only a handful of people showed up &

Eggers said there were 10 people at one point &

those who participated had a good time.

"It's like a potluck," Ann Gagnon said, who left with "The Namesake," a book about Bengali immigrants to the United States. "You don't know what you are going to get."

Each person brought a few selections that have been cluttering up their book shelf, and exchanged them for titles new to them.

But even though they had fun outside the library, the group wished they could be inside.

"It's way bittersweet," Gagnon said. "So many of us are grieving."

At the bottom of the library steps, about 20 feet away from the Eggers book exchange group, Jeff Napier had four boxes full of free books. Napier recently moved to Ashland from Marin County, Calif., to open the Ashland Media Exchange, a business in which he collects used books to sell on the internet. The less valuable books he gives away at his storefront on East Main Street near Highway 66. He touts his business as a for-profit solution to the library closures.

Little did he know Helga Motley, who has criticized his business, was taking part in Eggers' exchange.

"Don't be fooled to think this is any alternative to having a complete public library," she wrote on a recent local listserv. "This guy is new in town and is taking advantage of our closed libraries to build a free (for him) entrepreneurial business. It is corrosive to the efforts which huge numbers of well informed people are making to reopen libraries asap."

Motley and Napier talked while they were both in front of the library on Tuesday afternoon and agreed to disagree.

"We offer a alternative to libraries and used book stores," Napier said. He said he came to the Tuesday book exchange to "both" plug his business and to support the local library.

Which was just fine by Eggers, who said, "It can be whatever people want to make of it. Everyone is invited."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .