News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Libraries are community

Scottish-born businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in steel, but used his wealth to build libraries. Beginning in 1880, he gave away $60 million to build 1,689 libraries across the United States. Many still exist as libraries, and others as community centers, museums, art galleries or other uses. In 1889, he said, “In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves.”

As a poor, uneducated young man who wanted to improve his lot in life, Carnegie sought admittance to his local library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which at the time was not free. He persuaded the administrator that the library should be free and open to all. The idea of a free library, open to all, regardless of social or economic status, was launched.

Deschutes County is fortunate that 22 years ago the voters approved the formation of the Deschutes Public Library District (DPL) as a property-tax-funded special district. No longer competing with other county services, DPL has grown and transformed itself to meet the needs and challenges of the new millennium and with a plan for the future.

The DPL with its six branches, including Sisters, offers materials and services never envisioned by Carnegie. The internet is not a competitor but is an integral part of DPL’s digital products and services. The list includes genealogy; Chilton auto repair manuals; DIY manuals; over 1,000 magazines; and Gale instruction courses — the list goes on.

Oh, yes! There are books! Thousands of them! Books are and will always remain the backbone of the library system. Here again, some think that physical books are a thing of the past because of the availability of digital books. Surprisingly, while the District has an enormous collection of digital books, many people still like or prefer physical books. Children, especially, learn the joy of reading through picture books, and the children’s section is one of the most popular in each branch.

Many things go on in the libraries besides checking out books. All libraries have computers available for public use. Children’s story time attracts thousands of children each year. More than 400 programs were provided during 2019 and they have continued online during the pandemic. Libraries provide space for art exhibits and special demonstrations like the wildly popular Train Man’s model train set-up at Christmas. They provide resources and services to our community members such as technology, early learning resources, job search and resume assistance, computer classes and cultural programs.

Are you wondering if you need legal assistance with a particular problem? DPL partners with the Deschutes County Access to Justice Committee to offer free 30-minute consultations with an attorney offering general legal information or referrals to other agencies. Are you thinking of starting a new business or wanting help with an existing one? DPL has a full menu of resources to help. Or maybe you have a unique research problem or issue you need help with. You can “Ask a Librarian” for assistance.

As much as anything else, libraries are community. Andrew Carnegie knew this and said, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert.” Being free and open to anyone, our libraries are centers of equality, community belonging and places of safety. Sisters is stronger and more centered because of its library.

All past incurred debt to build or improve the DPL’s six branches has been paid off. The DPL has not gone to the voters to ask for more money for either capital projects or operations for 22 years. Measure 9-139 on the November ballot gives us the opportunity to update and expand the Sisters Library to better serve our community. The expanded space will provide more open and flexible spaces for a variety of community uses from after-school tutoring to creative DIY activities to book club gatherings and small business meeting space — something for everyone! While 2020 has been difficult, it is important to look beyond the current times and plan for a strong future.

Voting “yes” will ensure we can do just that!


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