It’s been a low cost, discount, bargain basement public library.
It’s been that way from the beginning. The library started with a “book social” hosted by the Salem Woman’s Club in 1904 at which about 50 books were donated. When the club approached the City fathers to let them put their collection in the City Council chambers, Mayor Frank Waters agreed, “provided it should not cost the Council anything.”
In 1909, when Andrew Carnegie was giving away libraries to cities that would provide a site and an operating budget, it was the Women’s Club that bought the site at the corner of Winter and State streets. But when the City refused to appropriate sufficient funds to operate the library the deal fell through. A year later the Club tried again, and this time got the City to appropriate $3,000 in operating funds to secure the free Carnegie library that opened in 1912.
The free Carnegie library (which still stands today) housed the Salem Public Library for six decades and was seriously outgrown and undersized when the library was finally able to relocate to the present library in 1972. That library was paid for with a 1968 bond measure that also built City Hall and the downtown fire station. It was the only time Salem citizens were ever asked to tax themselves for library construction, until today.
In 1990-91 Loucks Auditorium and the parking structure were added to the library, paid for with urban renewal funds and grants. The West Salem Branch library was also funded with grants and donations in 1987. And other improvements to the main library have been funded by the Salem Public Library Foundation and their generous donors.
Salem taxpayers also continue to get off easy on the library operating budget, just like they did in 1912. The latest statistics from the State Library tell us that in 2015-16 we spent only $4.4 million on library operations compared to $11.9 million in Eugene, $8.1 million in Beaverton, and $9 million in Hillsboro. Even Tigard, with less than a third the population of Salem spent $5.4 million on library operations that year.
So we hope Salem taxpayers will not hesitate to do the right thing when it comes to voting on only the second bond measure request in the library’s history. We really don’t have a choice if we want to make sure we have a public library after the inevitable Cascadia earthquake hits. An engineering study commissioned by the City in 2014 tells us that the library is almost sure to collapse in that event. When the library was built 45 years ago we did not know about the Cascadia subduction zone, and our library was built with no earthquake reinforcement.
There is a one in three chance that the library will be open when the earthquake occurs, so we have a moral obligation to prevent horrific loss of life. About 1,600 people a day visit our library on average, and that does not include the library staff and many volunteers.
The cost of the library bond measure is 12¢ per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The median assessed valuation of a home in Salem is about $160,000, which means that the average taxpayer will see an increase of about $19 a year if the bond measure passes.
It’s the cost of a large pizza or a trade paperback book.
Not too much to ask to save lives and save our library.