Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke addresses members of the Friends of the Library at the 2012 Annual Meeting.
I attended my first Friends of the Library Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. There was an air of geniality present, which I don't normally associate with meetings. A steady hum of conversation filled the air; it seemed more of a get-together of friends than a business meeting of peers. I noticed two groups of people say hello and exchange hugs and handshakes, remarking that it’s good to see each other again and it's been too long.
A long row of snacks and a table of wine helped feed the mood of festivity. Even as a newcomer, I was not left out. Several people introduced themselves to me or were introduced to me, and I spent ten minutes or so in pleasant conversation with two young ladies: Amy Baskin & Erin Butler—both of whom are writers, with Erin Butler also being an active writer for the Friends of the Library website.
The meeting began with a welcome by FOL President Craig Cedros, who also announced the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Friends of the Library, which was met with an enthusiastic round of applause. A party is in the works, and judging by how these folks conduct their meetings, I'm sure a good time will be had by all. The Friends Board of Directors were then introduced, along with the committees in which they are active or their official positions with the Friends.
Nominees for the new Board Member positions were put forward next, including the two ladies I had been chatting with earlier in the evening: Amy Baskin and Erin Butler. The other new Board Members are Percy Wise, Earl Dizon, and Jamie Earl. Their qualifications are impressive, and all were unanimously approved. The new candidates will be filling the positions vacated by Board Members who are retiring after contributing so much of their time and energy.
Cedros then turned the floor over to the Director of Libraries, Vailey Oehlke, who spoke about the recent approval of an $0.89 levy to fund the Library. The good news is that the levy passed with an astounding 84% approval rating. The bad news is that the traditional levy amount is no longer able to sustain current services, and hasn't generated enough income for the Library in over three years (recent budget shortfalls have been covered by surplus money saved from the beginning of the last levy). As of Sunday, July 1, 2012 there will be a one-day-a-week closure for all libraries, a $1,000,000 reduction in the materials budget, and the elimination of the equivalent of 43 full time staff positions.
The search for an alternative means of Library funding is still in process, having started decades ago, and there may be a ballot for the November election to give the Multnomah County Library system its own tax district. Some more good news—the levy has been renewed for three years, and the Library has painstakingly planned the money's usage so there should be no more reductions in services and hours.
While there is debate as to when the ballot measure for a tax district would make it to the voters, both the Library and the County Commissioners are committed to making it happen. The proposed tax district would be at the level $1.19 per $1000 of assessed value, which would restore services to their current levels and sustain the library for at least 15 years, possibly longer. The Friends would like to see the tax district put forward to voters as soon as possible—in November, we hope.
One highlight was the question of ebooks, which is being pursued by the Library. The Library is trying to broaden the collection of ebooks it can offer to patrons, and is embarking on a project to digitize special items in its physical collection to make them available worldwide. It might also like to carry ebook readers, but is unsure of the best method to offer the product or how to protect against the devices becoming obsolete.
The bulk of a normal Annual Meeting is usually reserved for a guest speaker, but this year the Board reserved the time to get feedback from Friends members about how current programs have been received and any ideas for future programs to be enacted. It is a nice gesture, showing the open communication between the Board, the Library, and the Friends. Every voice was heard.
One suggestion was the idea of doing another Pop-Up store, which is being considered, but so far no suitable location has been found. There is also the possibility of selling books online: the Friends has plenty of books to offer, but an inventory location would need to be found and a means for fulfilling sales in a timely manner. No matter what suggestion or question was raised, the Board seemed to have at least considered it or was actively investigating the possibility, which I, at least, found remarkable and reassuring as a library supporter.
As the meeting wrapped up and I made my way out, several groups lingered behind to continue chatting, and I left to the sounds of laughter and conversation—the meeting ending with the same friendly atmosphere with which it had begun.