Dunsmuir library has five months to secure funding

Richard DuPertuis
As Dunsmuir library volunteer Kristyanna Vigona looks on, Karen O’Quinn checks out a stack of books and DVDs to Richard Schwaner Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. O’Quinn, whose position of branch assistant was eliminated by the county June 30, immediately signed on as volunteer to keep the library open. She was rehired by the county July 14 as an extra hire, keeping the same working hours and pay, minus benefits.

Saturday, July 10, Karen O’Quinn was worried. She was not as worried as she had been last month, when she envisioned having to close the door and pack all of the office supplies, the books, computers, photocopier, shelves – everything for pickup by the county, leaving nothing of the Dunsmuir library behind save an empty shell.

No, that had not happened. The library was still open its normal hours. But she was still worried.

“It’s been very stressful,” said O’Quinn. “It was fine until the end of May. Then we got the news and things started going downhill.”

It was then she learned that, to close the wide gap in the Siskiyou County budget, county administrative officer Bruce McDermott was about to ask the board of supervisors to close the main Yreka county library and all its branches.

This was like in 1991, when proposed cuts to library services had rocked the county. Payroll would be cut nearly 20 percent. Purchase of books and other materials would be reduced by a whopping 72 percent.

No new best seller fiction books could be purchased and borrowing of new books between the libraries could not be sustained. Siskiyou County libraries were faced with death by starvation, rang the cry, and the citizenry rallied to the cause.

O’Quinn said she had been horrified by the news. “I remembered my job description, the reason I wanted this job,” she said. “It said, ‘Open the world of information and imagination, while promoting life-long learning for the people of Siskiyou County.’ I started letting people know. I told them this is true and it’s grim. If we didn’t do something right away, we’d be shuttered.”

The library was not shuttered. Once O’Quinn had alerted the Friends of Dunsmuir Library, they had rallied and, with outraged Friends of other county libraries and outraged citizens, had packed the supervisors meeting, giving them pause. When came the day the doors of all county libraries had been scheduled to close, all stayed open, saved by an allotment of county funds that would only provide life support but not for daily operations.

The 1991 drive for full county library sustainability began one year before its failure. Siskiyou County Friends of the Library treasurer George Farrier announced at a board of supervisors meeting a proposal for a $39 assessment which would establish a county library district, independent of Siskiyou’s general fund and which, over a period of 10 years, would bring the library budget back up to its 1989-1990 levels. First step, collect 2,300 signatures in support of the measure in time for the June 1992 election.

The proponents of the new library district did not gather enough signatures for the June election, but did get the proposition on the ballot for November 1992. Christened Measure H, it faced an uphill battle from the beginning, needing a two-thirds vote to levy a new tax in Siskiyou County.

The Siskiyou branch of the American Association of University Women took the lead in promoting the cause by publishing a series of guest opinions in the Siskiyou Daily News.

O’Quinn said that the Friends of the Dunsmuir Library this year raised enough funds to finance the library’s operations until the end of 2010. Her own position did not survive.

“The branch assistant job category has been eliminated as of June 30,” she said. She had promptly rejoined the library workforce without pay. “I'll continue to volunteer as long as I can.”

That was what worried her Saturday. The county librarian had promised to refill her position by the middle of July, but at much-reduced hours, maybe as little as four hours per week.

To keep working in the library, O’Quinn would have to be hired as an extra hire by the county. But she heard that the union would not allow the county to terminate a county employee and rehire her as an extra hire, and she worried that policy would remove her from consideration.

In 1992 the Internet, with its ability to connect households to vast amounts of information, had not quite arrived, so those supporting Measure H could cite 1,000 persons per day served by the county branch libraries.

They argued that the county general fund could no longer support a viable library system, and so the need for a district was undeniable. They seemed to base their optimism for passage on a belief that the voters would not abandon the concept of public library.

Editorials were published and both the South Siskiyou Newspapers and the Pioneer Press built a case against Measure H. While citing the noble cause for libraries in general, the two newspapers criticized the way the district was proposed to be structured, the lack of consideration for the taxpayers’ ability to support a tax during a recession and the 10-year limit to the district’s existence. In the end, Measure H failed in most districts to garner a majority vote, much less two-thirds.

On Wednesday, July 14 Siskiyou County hired Karen O’Quinn to work at the Dunsmuir branch library as an extra hire.

“Everything is status quo as far as the operating of the library,” she said. “The library is open the same hours as before. I am getting the same pay as before, only I have no access to benefits.” She said that although things were more comfortable, it is not time to sit back and relax. “County support ends with the year,” she said. “The end of the year is going to be here before we know it. We have to do something.”