All fifteen branches of the Jackson County Library closed today while in Ashland Oregon, a group of children staged a sit-in, protesting the largest library closure in US history.
It was a festive yet somber atmosphere Friday afternoon as library supporters and scores of patrons, parents and children gathered to support their public library and send a message to leaders in Salem and Washington that communities need public libraries.
Jackson County libraries were ordered closed, forcing the layoffs of 115 county employees when the state could no longer count on $150 million federal dollars in funding from timber deals made in the early 20th century. Locally, Jackson County voters rejected a ballot levy in 2006 that would have funded the libraries. It was assumed that local efforts to resume timber harvests would return the flow of the federal revenue but this has not been the case. Jackson County alone lost $23 million dollars a year.
Musicians played as passing cars honked their support. Children left chalk messages and wrote messages of hope on colorful ribbons thatadorned the rails and bookmarks to be placed in library books. Adults joined hands, singing “Save Our Libraries” and chanting “1..2..3..4.. What are libraries really for?”
Everyone from ABC news to high-school reporters converged onto chalk-stained steps outside the Ashland Library. Reporters for the Ashland Daily Tidings, Medford Mail Tribune, Channel 12 News, RVTV, the Media Collective, Rogue Indymedia Center, KSKQ News and the Ashland High School paper were all there along with countless individual cameras and recorders.
Outside the mood turned sober as the U.S. flag was lowered for a final time, marking closure of the 15 libraries across Jackson County. One citizen was overcome with anger, shouting out “This is a very rich town… It’s Beverly Hills!” challenging the crowd, “You should never have let this happen!” Among the crowd some were quietly singing “We Shall Overcome!”
Inside the library it was a buzz of activity as the last hours passed. The last-minute books were returned, tears were shared and good-byes were exchanged. “I think I am going to sit out in front and cry.” said one sad visitor.
Waiting for the inevitable closure, mothers and children gathered for a last stand in the Children’s Library. Mothers nursed babies as children decorated cards for their favorite librarians. Sierra H., a dramatic middle-school student lamented, “I’d rather fall into a deep pit of jagged stones and slowly bleed to death in a terrible agony than live in a world without books!”
When it was finally announced, “I’d like you to know that the library is closed until further notice.” the mood became more emotional. Parents worried and sobbed as their children continued playing as if unaware of the reality around them.
Some “very brave kids” had decided to stay and challenge the closure. The children, some as young as seven, brought sleeping bags and pillows, planning to stay overnight. “I don’t know what they have in-store for us” worried one mother.
“The police are coming, they will be escorted out of the building in an orderly fashion.” promised library manager Anne Billeter.
A short time later the children receved a friendly lesson in civil disobedience from Sargent Malcus Willams who arrived to escort the children out. “I knew this was coming … I expect everything to go smoothly… I like to see people express themselves in a non-violent way.” admitted Sgt. Williams.
“We learned the police were very concerned… We’re going to cooperate and walk out hand and hand when its time to leave.” announced Shelly E. who shared that the children all agreed to a code of non-violence.
Sgt. Williams approached the children as if it were career day, reading to the children and answering their grown-up questions, “When I’m on duty I represent the Ashland Police Force, I don’t represent Malcus Williams.”
From the book ‘Leonardo The Terrible Monster’, Williams read aloud, “Leonardo tried very hard to be scary but he just wasn’t.” The children befriended Officer Williams who later joked with the kids, “I learned about Captain Underpants today.”
“I want to say thanks for loving us so much.” gushed librarian Amy Blossom to the children as they were escorted outside to their parents, cameras and the appreciative crowd.
Vanessa H. a mother of a 17-month-old left disappointed, saddened that she and her daughter were “in the middle of a good book … the library closed and [we] had to close the book and walk away” She finishes “How will it all end?”