Roseburg Public Library
by Mandy Elder, Roseburg
I moved home for a postgraduate fellowship a year and a half ago, after almost ten years of living in cities in Oregon and abroad. The transition was hard for many reasons; probably as hard as leaving here in the first place. The looming vacant building across from my favorite bagel café did not help. Douglas County budget cuts had shuttered the system’s library headquarters and closed all the branches.
But this isn’t a story of loss, it’s a story of perseverance and defining who were – and our future.
In January 2019, community leaders opened a new library – the Roseburg Public Library. I toured our new library in early December, before it opened to the public. The children’s library was under construction, books lay in boxes, and construction workers traipsed back and forth carrying supplies and debris. A bustle of anticipation filled the old County library with new energy and optimism.
It was during this visit that I started thinking differently about my hometown. The Roseburg Public Library fosters opportunity in our community. With the transition from a county branch, the library membership pool shrank to just those within city limits. This would have excluded thousands of children and families who live in unincorporated areas but otherwise call Roseburg home and rely on the city’s services. Instead our community decided to extend free membership to all children within the Roseburg Public School District’s boundaries and open a low-income resident sponsorship program funded by individual community donors. These acts of inclusion literally define who belongs – and in so doing, illuminate who we are as a community.
Roseburg’s perseverance, creativity, and resourcefulness weave through the fabric of the library in beams of exposed heartwood and the collaborative offices of the education service district sharing the building. The library challenges narratives that no one cares. That rural communities are “dying.”
Today children gather in the library with stacks of colorful books to read and community members sign up for their library cards. With every story time, book placed on hold, and community gathering held in this space, we are reminded that Roseburg’s best days lie ahead of us and that we work best when we work together.
Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.