Nearly 20 percent of Oregonians either have no public library service or the services they receive fall below the minimum standards, according to the State Library Board.

Nearly 20 percent of Oregonians either have no public library service or the services they receive fall below the minimum standards, according to the State Library Board.

The board has formed a committee that will begin meeting Tuesday to develop ways to improve library access statewide after an annual report revealed 81 percent of residents have “adequate library services.”

In Jackson County, libraries meet minimal state benchmarks for providing library services to residents despite reduced hours. Special programs for children, seniors and teens are a plus, according to the report. Staffing levels — one staff member per 4,000 residents — just meet the benchmarks, said state librarian Jim Scheppke.

Jackson County maintained acceptable service in most other areas, the report found.

“Staffing was one thing they were pretty close on,” Scheppke said. “With one or two fewer people, it probably would have fallen below the minimum standards, but it just eked by.”

Scheppke said the new committee, called Benchmark No. 38 Strategy Committee after the benchmark that measures adequate service, likely would explore ways to more consistently fund libraries.

Jackson County shuttered its libraries in April 2007 for six months because of county budget problems and non-renewed federal timber funding.

In October that year, libraries reopened under a private company with 36 percent fewer hours — 310 countywide each week versus 481 — and reduced full-time employees from 85 to 53.

Denise Galarraga, director of Jackson County Library Services, said the county system, run by Library Systems and Services LLC (known as LSSI), a Maryland-based library management company, “strives to do more than meet the minimum.”

Galarraga said the county system offers as many hours as possible and ensures adequate staffing.

“I think we do a little more than just meet the standards. I think we exceed them,” she said.
Galarraga said the county system offers a better-than-average rate for number of volumes per resident and offers story time “at least once per week” at all branch libraries, though exact figures were not immediately available.

“Even with our reduced hours, it was a big year in terms of circulation,” she said.

“Two of the highest years for circulation in the history of the library were in the past 10 years. I think what's most important is we're trying to do the most we can with what we have.”

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.