The traditional experience of going to a library, which may include browsing for a book and finding a quiet place to read next to a large window, is still on hold for the time being thanks to COVID-19. But the Eugene Public Library is hoping to bring some of that back by enhancing its online and limited in-person services. It just needs a levy renewal to do so.
The Eugene Public Library Foundation wants Eugene residents to vote “yes” to renew a levy that was first passed in 2015. This provides more funding for the library system at a slightly lower rate, adding no new taxes to the user, but providing more funds for the library. The foundation says that this levy is essential for providing materials for in-person and online use.
The current five-year levy, which raises $2.7 million dollars a year, expires in 2021. Homeowners pay a tax of 17 cents each year for every $1,000 of property value. According to the year three levy report, the library has seen a significant increase in teen programming and branch hours as a result of the funding.
Voting to renew the levy would end up costing the typical Eugene taxpayer less than they pay now, around $37 dollars per year over the five-year period. The tax rate would decrease from 17 cents to 15 cents, providing the library with $2.85 million a year — a substantial increase from the previous levy. The reason for this is tied to an increase in property value, says Reed Davaz McGowan, executive director of the Eugene Public Library Foundation.
Towards the end of July, the Eugene City Council had the opportunity to choose which levy option the public would vote on. They could either keep the levy at the current rate or decrease it; the council voted 6-2 to slightly decrease the tax amount in an effort to be cautious about asking homeowners to spend more money in an economic recession. The council also considered the fact that many other public bodies would also be struggling over the next year or so.
Although the library has limited services now, Davaz McGowan says that the levy is critical because during difficult economic times people rely on the library. “The renewal is really critical because library use in times of recession and economic downturn increases, because of powerful free resources available for everyone in the community,” she says.
The renewed levy will be able to meet even more demands brought on from the pandemic, allowing the downtown library to maintain its hours, provide educational and internet support for students and provide internet resources to populations who may not otherwise have access.
“The library has been open, even without being open to the public, by engaging people through digital access,” Davaz McGowan says. Since the pandemic started, use of the library’s digital resources have increased almost 75 percent. In those months nearly 1,000 new library cards have been issued.
With the renewed five-year levy, the library plans to provide online tutoring services for students who need extra help with school. They also plan to reopen some buildings in a limited and COVID safe way so that students can access free wifi.
In addition to educational resources, the library will also provide business-related help. When it is safe to meet in person, the library will offer free meeting spaces for agencies and individuals. It will also provide access to online programming which helps individuals develop new career skills.
And to keep everything running, 60 percent of the branch staff will be funded by the levy, Davaz McGowan says. But she adds that the foundation is concerned if the levy doesn’t get passed because it means lost funding for those salaries and many other free online resources.
“The library continues to pivot, and they need to experiment with how they engage with the community,” Davaz McGowan says, adding that in the beginning of the pandemic when masks were difficult to come by, the library’s maker hub — a space where people can create and use items like sewing machines — was used to create masks for the community.