Last November, voters in rural Douglas County, Oregon, were faced with a simple choice: Raise property taxes by a few dollars a month per household or close down their entire library system. They voted against the tax increase, so over the past few months, all 12 branches in the county shut their doors.
VICE News was there when the last library closed.
The library was more than a collection of books. People visited regularly to attend meetings and classes, participate in children’s programs, and to use the free computers for vital services like applying to jobs.
Harold Hayes, the now-former library director, estimates that about half of the county’s residents had visited the library. Hayes told VICE News he is most concerned about the poor people in Douglas County, who he says have been left without access to books and the internet.
Douglas County has been struggling financially for years. Once known as the timber capital of the nation, the county was kept flush with cash from the lucrative logging industry. But when conservation efforts ramped up in the ’90s, timber production dropped off, and the region was forced to rely on the federal government to subsidize basic public services.
But three years ago, that safety net disappeared. Now residents are being asked to support those services with their tax dollars. But many people in this deeply conservative county feel they’ve already been taxed too much, and are wary of any additional burden — even to support a beloved community library.