Today the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to refer a library expansion bond measure to the November 2020 ballot. Along with thirteen other Portland residents, I had the pleasure of participating in a period of public comment before the referral was put to a vote. This is the three-minute statement I spent weeks writing and whittling down.
I wasn’t the only speaker who got a little choked up sharing my story of love for our library system with the very sympathetic board, all of whom seemed ready to vote “aye” even before hearing public comments. The board room was packed with people of all stripes, passionate about supporting and improving the library. One speaker’s family has had five generations use and enjoy the Belmont branch.
Our library system is one of the most-used in the nation, but ranks 102nd in square footage. Officially made a tax-supported public library in 1902, most branches were built in the early 20th century, designed to accommodate an early 20th century population we have since overwhelmingly outpaced. My family has been regularly turned away from packed event rooms at storytime due to overcrowding, and after one of several such experiences I reached out to the Library Foundation to ask how I might get involved in efforts to fund expansion. They responded with kindness and generosity, and invited me to participate in supporting this bond measure by sharing our story.
What a thrill to participate in this local part of the democratic process. I’ve been hungry for hope and for ways to directly impact decision-making locally, and this morning fed my soul. I can’t wait to vote yes in November.
Chair Kafoury and Commissioners, I am grateful for this chance to speak to you today and ask you to put this bond before voters in November.
I’m a homeowner and the mother of two young children, ages 5 and 2. We live in Lents, one of many neighborhoods in East County experiencing rapid change, not all of it beneficial to the people who live there.
My daughter and I started going to storytime in 2015, when she was 4 months old. Once or twice a week, we walked to the Holgate Library and joined the circle of kids and parents from our neighborhood for stories and songs. Her face lit up whenever we said the word “library.” By preschool, her vocabulary wowed her teachers.
I truly believe we owe her pre-literacy skills to storytime at the library. This free program shaped her because it was easily available to us every week.
Like a good story is more than its plot, and a love of reading is about more than learning letters, storytimes are about more than songs and books. They are about consistency and connection. One of the first names my daughter learned was Juliet, the Holgate children’s librarian who knew her, in turn, by name. These early relationships and exposures matter.
But this magic formula is becoming harder to access at Portland libraries. Since my son was born in 2018, I’ve seen my family and others regularly turned away from storytime due to overcrowding.
One recent morning, after the usual chaos of spilled Cheerios and preschool drop-off, it felt like a minor miracle when my son and I made it to the event room at Holgate— only to find the door closed and a sign saying FULL. As I comforted my son, I was embarrassed to find tears in my own eyes.
But as we walked home that day, I realized I could make this about our small disappointment, or I could see the bigger picture. Over the past few years, I have felt the city changing. Like so many of my neighbors in Lents, I worry for the folks struggling to survive winter in tents and cars. Our city is stretched to capacity, and everywhere we look, we see need.
At the library, though, I see solutions. I see resources made available to people of every age, economic background, race, gender, and ability. I see those resources being heavily, gratefully used.
What if, on that recent day, I had been a first-time library user? A family new to town, curious about storytime? Would I have come back?
I want storytime for EVERYONE. And that’s just one of many library services that Portlanders want and use. The library consistently brings me and my neighbors connection and empowerment. As neighborhoods grow, our library branches need to grow, too.
Give the community a chance to invest in East County libraries like the one my neighbors and I use. Give us a chance to invest in each other.