Here's a book I want. Oh, it's heavy," said Christopher Wilson, 6, as he hoisted a coffee-table book-sized tome about "Star Wars" characters. "Let's look for Darth Vader."

Kids were once again wandering through bookshelves as Bellview Elementary School in Ashland opened its library Monday.

The Ashland School District is opening school libraries for the summer on a rotating basis beginning this week.

Along with 14 other branches in the Jackson County Library System, the Ashland Public Library closed on April 6 due to funding problems.

Doug Werner, a special education assistant at Bellview who is tutoring this summer, said he and Gabriel, his student, had planned to meet at the public library.

They now have a place to go with the opening of Bellview's library, Werner said as Gabriel breezed through a reading lesson at his side.

"This is too easy," Werner told his 8-year-old pupil. "Let's get out 'Moby Dick' or 'War of the Worlds.'"

The school district, city of Ashland, laid off county library workers and others have joined forces to make sure that kids have access to books.

"It's such a completely beautiful thing. Several entities are working toward the same goal to keep children reading and learning through the summer," said Perii Hauschild-Owen, who was one of the children's librarians at the Ashland Public Library.

"It's a great example of the way it takes a village to raise a child."

Hauschild-Owen and a children's librarian who worked at Medford's branch are taking turns entertaining kids during story time from 10:30 to 11 a.m. at Bellview on Mondays, Helman Elementary School on Wednesdays and Walker Elementary School on Fridays.

The popular "Babies in the Library" program for babies and caregivers has been transplanted from the Ashland Public Library to Walker Elementary School at 11:30 a.m. Fridays. The program is funded by the Oregon Community Foundation, a state philanthropic organization.

All members of the community are invited to the school libraries, but only children enrolled in the Ashland School District can check out materials.

At Bellview, a cart filled with picture books and chapter books stood ready for those kids who couldn't check out other materials at the school library. Those books are being loaned out on the honor system.

Friends of the Ashland Library is organizing a book exchange at Ashland Middle School on Tuesdays. Members of the community are invited to bring and take a few books.

The group is not issuing a plea for book donations because the staff members and volunteers at the school libraries lack the manpower and storage space to handle a large volume of donated books, said Amy Blossom, a Friends of the Ashland Library member who also worked at the Ashland Public Library.

The school libraries will be open through Friday, Aug.17.

The school district is paying $6,000 for library assistants to staff the libraries, and will also pay for facility costs such as energy for the buildings.

The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee, which approves the city of Ashland's budget, authorized spending up to $17,800 to help with the school-based summer library services. The Ashland City Council asked city staff to try to hold that spending to $7,000.

Meanwhile, city of Ashland officials are working to prepare a measure for the September ballot that would ask voters here if they are willing to pay up to 58 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to reopen the Ashland Public Library.

The two-year levy would cost the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 up to $145 per year. It would raise about $1,005,000 annually &

enough to keep the Ashland Public Library open 40 hours a week and for patrons to borrow materials through a courier service from the central library in Medford.

In May, a majority of Ashland voters approved a countywide levy of 66 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to fund the Jackson County Library System. But a majority of county voters rejected the plan.

Jackson County, along with other rural counties, is facing the loss of federal funds historically provided to counties to offset the loss of property tax revenue from large federal land holdings.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.