North Coast Library district could become a realtiyFor some, a long road trip can often be less tedious by popping a book on tape in the car's cassette player to spend hours behind the wheel listening to a classic novel narrated by a well-known actor.

Sometimes, although, a half hour into the tape one begins to realize instead of a thriller they've picked a snorer and they're stuck with their choice. But Astoria Library Director Jane Tucker says if an idea for a new North Coast library district becomes a reality, a driver could pick up a book on tape in Astoria, head east on U.S. Highway 30 and if they decided they didn't like it they could return it in St. Helens and pick up another.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Astoria Library patrons make use of the computer services as well as the book and magazine collections last Friday afternoon. "You could take advantage of all the collections of all the libraries in the district," she said of the possible three-county district that would encompass Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook.

She said she has spoken with a few library directors in each of the counties and they are all supportive of the idea. The librarians are working on getting a grant application together to submit to the State Library by April 11 in the hopes of securing funds to further explore the idea. Tucker said the grants would be provided through the federal Library Services and Technology Act. This year, the Oregon State Library expected an allotment of $1.9 million federal dollars, she said.

Part of any grant would pay a consultant to see if there is interest among taxpayers to support a district.

While only in its tentative planning stages, if created the three county district would be the first of its kind in the state. While there are 20 library districts in Oregon, 17 of those are special districts serving only one library and the other three serve the libraries in just one county, said State Librarian Jim Scheppke.

"The one thing that's really

innovative here is having a district larger than a county," he said.

He said districts provide distinct advantages over city-funded libraries . They spread the cost of maintaining libraries over a larger base of taxpayers.

Instead of having their budget cut by a cash-strapped city government, a library district raises its own tax revenue, and therefore can expect a stable and usually increasing amount of funding.

"A district creates a dedicated tax or a permanent tax rate that's specifically for library services," he said. "As long as libraries are organized as city departments, which mostly is the case in Clatsop County, than they're always at a disadvantage because there's other very important priorities that cities have that come first."

Districts not only provide stable library funding, but by pooling resources together smaller libraries can access the resources of libraries in larger communities. For example, the Tillamook Library could have books and other materials sent to patrons in Astoria or elsewhere, in the envisioned regional district.

To make that vision a reality, Scheppke said organizers would have to get a library district measure on the ballot for a primary or general election through a county commission or by petition. Each local library would have to vote on the measure to become a member in the district - but not every library in the counties would have to join the district.

A model for an efficient multi-county library district is the Timberland Regional Library that serves more than 30 communities in five counties in Washington. Based in Olympia, it includes branches in Ilwaco, Ocean Park and Naselle. He said that provides excellent service to a wide variety of people in urban and rural areas for a good cost.

"You'd be amazed to see how the quality of service is extremely high in the small communities of Southwest Washington," he said. "It's really an exciting success story that we can emulate."

Astoria's library director Tucker said even if everything went smoothly to plan, a district likely wouldn't be formed until 2006. But she said it's important to begin planning now because the road toward a district is not a smooth one. Several attempts to form just a countywide system in Clatsop County have already failed, she noted.

Other library directors in the counties that would constitute the district supported the idea. St. Helens Library Director Terri Washburn said a district would avoid duplication of services and make libraries more efficient.

"In today's economic climate, it is imperative that libraries look for ways to deliver services most efficiently, and a multi-county district is the most effective way to do so," she said.

Tucker said some of those efficiencies could be the district buying only a few copies of one title that were shared throughout the district, instead of each library having to buy its own. She said one staff person could serve in the same role for all three counties, such as one person who could oversee the children's' section of each library in the district.

Gillian Maggert, site manager for the Warrenton Community Library, said she would like to see the library district notion work because it would allow her staff to get books from other libraries to better serve patrons in her area.

"I would support it, but of course I'd have to be influenced by what the city fathers say or what our library board says," she said. "I think we need to pursue it, and if it doesn't fly this time, there's always next time."

Reita Fackerell, director of the Seaside Library, said she is excited about the possibility of a district because it would give rural residents access to libraries. Currently only those that live in cities with libraries or those in special library districts can pick up books at a library. Having a county, or even multi-county, district would give those people the resources they deserve, she said.

The Clatskanie Library is served by one of those special districts separate from municipal or county government, and its director, Elizabeth Karuse, said that helps it avoid some of the budgetary constraints faced by municipal libraries.

A three-county district would likely be a good thing for the library, Karuse said, granted it would provide a higher level of service than the Clatskanie Library can now provide.

"It's definitely something worthwhile to look into," she said. "But a lot of research needs to be done."

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