A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

What corona may do to this library

Written May 4th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

The Carnegie Library in downtown Albany — closed — as it looked on April 22.

Like a lot of other places, Albany’s two public libraries have been closed to the public since mid-March. The library director says they’ll stay closed at least until the governor lifts her “stay-home” order. This may have one of two possible results.

One is that the closure will prove just how crucial the libraries are to our lives as a community and individual citizens. As for me, I’m climbing the walls because I can’t check out books. The ones I got just before the closure turned out to be duds.

I’ve read one of them — fought my way through its chirpy prose until I gave up and skipped to the end. The other two proved pretty much unreadable, even in these dire circumstances.

I wish the libraries had given us a couple days notice that they would close indefinitely. We could have emptied the shelves in anticipation of a long drought.

The other possible result? Some people, including some on the city council, might be proved right in their contention that library buildings are no longer needed. After all, the Albany library staff has assembled an amazing array of substitutes for regular operations. There’s a long list of online offerings for adults and children, from e-books to all kinds of databases and electronic story times.

Library Director Eric Ikenouye told me on April 21 that before the coronavirus outbreak, the system’s two buildings had an average of 1,000 people a day come through the doors. Maybe many of these patrons have now found that the online offerings work for them, that they don’t need the buildings to be open any more.

I hope this is not the case. I hope I’m not the only one for whom regular visits to the local public library are an essential routine.

But if it is the case, the fate of the downtown Carnegie branch may be sealed. The city administration is looking at steep declines in revenue because of the governor’s corona shutdown. This will cause trouble during the rest of  the current biennium and sharpen the projected shortfall in the next.

Closing the Carnegie branch was one of the alternatives the council considered before and may be forced to consider again. It would not save much money. But the proponents of this cut, however small, could say: “Look, you got along without it for months and survived, so …”

Surviving? Yeah, in a literal sense. So far anyway. But it would be a much poorer life if my favorite (and conveniently located) library had to stay shut. (hh)

28 responses to “What corona may do to this library”

  1. Lisa Farnam says:

    I have so many fond memories of when this was the only library. Got my first library card there. Thought I was hot stuff.

    • Dick Olsen says:

      Lisa, I think two sweet ladies, who you might have known, must have had similar feelings in the 80s when the City had similar money problems. Between them, Margaret Weatherford and Lucile Wilfert gave around 1/4 million toward keeping the Carnegie building open as a branch library. A Carnegie Foundation was set up and it has now grown to over a million ( if the present downturn hasn’t eroded it too much ). Last year the Foundation spent around $40,000 to overhaul the upstairs widows, provide new upstairs widow screens and air-condition the building. Money was also allocated to the over-all book fund.

      I’m not twisting any arms, but, if anyone would like to donate to the Carnegie and our library system in general, they can contact LaRee Domnguez at 541-791-0112 as how best contribute to the Carnegie fund. It might be of interest that our entire library system takes only 1.4% of our City budget. Albany is a generous place and volunteers contribute a lot to our City in many ways including or library system.

  2. Trudie Helget says:

    Dear Mr. Hering,
    Better known as our “man about town hh”. (abbrev. for “he’s here”)
    Thanks for using your words to speak for us and reveal our thoughts. (Sometimes even to us.) Libraries are not just buildings that hold books to share. They hold part of our souls.

  3. HowlingCicada says:

    Corvallis Library now has delivery service — heard on KLCC Monday.
    “””It’s free to anyone that qualifies for the program.”””

    “””The Library district includes most of Benton County. (Residents living within the city limits of Albany are not eligible). Others may purchase a card for $120.”””

    My personal story about books:
    I’d be happy to never again read another piece of printed paper, have lifelong visual difficulty which is mostly solved by the computer where I can manipulate and hack my way thru almost anything. The Firefox browser is a godsend because you can easily disable most of the crap used by “creative” web designers. Linux (replacing Windows) also helps by making it easy to “hot key” screen manipulations (instead of endlessly mousing around). I have some books which I may need to scan to read comfortably.

    Computers are also great for reading because they’re comfortable to use sitting or standing. Monitors come in any size and resolution you could reasonably want, or use a 4K TV if you want a dozen books all at once or a big map to keep up with the geography of a literary adventure.

  4. Jennifer Stuart says:

    An argument in favor of keeping both: having two branches of the library available could allow for more patrons to use in person library services and still maintain social distancing, which we may have to do for another 18-24 months.
    I think that many families with school aged children are feeling the loss of the libraries, especially when having to educate their children at home.

  5. P. Richner says:

    Closing libraries as non-essential should be a red flag for all who value freedom of thought. It is similar, if not the equivalent, of book-burning.

    Who will pay for libraries is another subject for another day.

    “They that start by burning books will end by burning men.”– Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Is it book burning when a public librarian, exercising his own judgment or that of a city political official, only stocks the shelves with books they deem appropriate?

      The city library can’t stock every book, so the question of censorship arises every time a librarian decides to buy only certain books. For example, some librarians won’t stock Dr. Seuss because his books are considered racist and include harmful stereotypes.

      Book burning, a form of censorship, can happen right under your nose without you even realizing it. Even in an old library building that should have been closed decades ago.

      • P. Richner says:

        Your comment about who is to pay for library services is why I said, “Who will pay for libraries is another subject for another day.” I won’t wait for another day, but I’m willing to state that patrons are the ones, along with other generous interest parties, who should pay for library services. Indeed, they are the ones who have the right to determine what is appropriate. Taxpayers shouldn’t be mulcted for libraries, nor for so many other “free” services. Further, there’s no fool-proof method to determine what is “essential,” and what is not. “”Quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum” translates as “what is food for one man may be bitter poison to others”. It was referred to in English in 1604 by the playwright Thomas Middleton.

        Voting, other than with your own resources to purchase things you desire, is a poor way to make decisions.

        • Gordon L. Shadle says:

          I agree, you can have libraries that are open to the public without them being funded by taxpayers nor staffed by mostly unionized employees.

          Privately run libraries exist.

          It just requires imagination to structure an effective private funding model. Unfortunately, imagination is not a strong suit of unwieldy bureaucracies.

          • HowlingCicada says:

            I remember such a private library in the early 1960s within a semi-upscale department store (Burdine’s in Miami). The selection was very small – probably recent best-sellers that were reserved out to infinity at the public library. The cost seemed rather high. All this according to my teenaged mind and imperfect memory.

            So, there’s a model that may or may not have worked. Nowadays I can imagine publishers getting more involved with lending e-books. Textbooks (both e-books and dead-tree) can be rented on Amazon and elsewhere. Prices are too high (long story).

            None of this solves the need for publically-accessible wide-ranging archives, and for “third places” of public engagement (if and when that becomes possible again).

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          “I’m willing to state that patrons are the ones, along with other generous interest parties, who should pay for library services.”

          Are you (and Gordon) implying that folks who don’t have kids in school should be also able to bow out of paying for schools if they so choose?

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            Speaking for myself, it is simply not the proper role of government to educate children.

            Free market education places the responsibility for education where it belongs – with parents or guardians.

            In a free market system some wouldn’t be forced under threat of force to pay for the education of others.

          • P. Richner says:

            Not simply implying, but willing to state outright in concurrence with Shadle, “Speaking for myself, it is simply not the proper role of government to educate children.

            “Free market education places the responsibility for education where it belongs – with parents or guardians.

            “In a free market system some wouldn’t be forced under threat of force to pay for the education of others.”

            I have a family member living in Atlanta who no longer, as a retired person, is required to pay for school funding via taxes. So it can be done. I will add to G.S.s statement that as well as parents or guardians, others are free to donate their resources to help educate others.

  6. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Hasso –

    I’ll surmise you have a house full of books… If so, you can dust-off one or two of them and re-engage with a good story and/or author…

  7. Tricia says:

    Please find a way to have at least one library open. I need it. I like turning pages instead of reading off my computer. I would like to at least return my books.

  8. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Do you still read the printed version of Encyclopedia Britannica? It is no match for Wikipedia.

    Printed maps are no match for Mapquest.

    Dial telephones are no match for cell phones.

    Libraries, especially those that are publicly funded and part of a wasteful bureaucracy, are an anachronism. They are no match for the numerous ways a city citizen can access information or be entertained without even getting out of bed.

    Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund nonessential services like libraries just because an old building makes some old folks feel good.

    It’s 2020, for goodness sake. Time to move on…

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Wikipedia isn’t a liberal conspiracy?

      OK, that was tongue-in-cheek, just so no one misunderstands. There seem to be complaints from both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. If you want a self-admittedly (I think) biased encyclopedia, there’s Conservapedia — not worth a link (many conservatives will probably think it’s pretty bad).

      Despite being mostly liberal, I have some half-baked misgivings about libraries. But, right-on about 2020.

  9. Patricia Eich says:

    I really miss going to the library and frequently make use of their “on hold” option, very handy. I have many books in my personal collection I have yet to read or will re-read. I also have a Kindle which I use mainly when traveling so no shortage of material. I am still a fan of reading a “book” and especially like hard bound versions. I love the tactile feeling and remember when I was in grade school enjoying the delight of opening a brand new book and smelling the pages. The nuns at my Catholic grade school gave us instructions on how a new book was to be carefully opened and the pages gently folded open in sections.

  10. Bob Stalick says:

    I never realized libraries to be “Liberal” or “Conservative.” They are a valued public resource and a sign of a literate society.
    I had a Kindle, but it was a poor replacement for a printed copy, and I don’t use it any longer. I like the tactile feel of a real book, and I like its “heft” in my hands.
    We need our libraries, and the Carnegie Library is a gem in our downtown. Some way to support it financially must be found.

  11. Ray Kopczynski says:

    I’m reminded of the scene in the classic 1960 movie “The Time Machine” where the “rings” are spun to disseminate sound and video, but the actual books? They are crumbling bits of ancient paper… Strong message there and prescient.

    We have many shelves of books in our home. They (and the public library) give comfort. The recent drive to take the Carnegie Library out of the public realm is penny-wise & pound foolish IMO. I’ll back any campaign to support both libraries.

  12. John Klock says:

    Reading is a higher brain function and a direction where we want to go as a species rather than lowering ourselves to simply feeding, fighting, and fornicating. Humans can value the human mind and libraries or we can choose the low road. I think the Covid-19 lockdown gave us pause as to what we value and reading is certainly one of those few things we value.

  13. William Ayers says:

    I would be very sad to see the Carnegie Library go away. Very sad.

  14. Dick Olsen says:

    Your correct Gordon if you if you consider only the General Fund. However, https://albany-sandbox.budget.socrata.com/#!/year/2020/operating/0/department
    shows the library expenses at 1.45% of the total.

    Also, The Albany Public Library Fund does indeed provide support for the entire library system. However, it’ mission is to keep the Carnegie branch open. Most of us who live here, and support the Carnegie branch, refer to the fund as the Carnegie Fund. We should probably refer to it as the “Carnegie Fund”.

  15. Cynthia Cooper says:

    I am sorely missing access to good reads. I wish we could have limited access to the library by way of a staggered access according to , say, the last digits of our library accounts, for example. i.e. on Mondays cards with last two between 00 and 13 could go in; on Tuesdays cards with last two between 14-26; on Weds … last two between 27-40 and so on. I
    Also, the closure of the public library is a real hardship for those of us without internet at home.


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