PENDLETON - Librarians throughout Umatilla County aren't speaking in a whisper about this.

They've discussed what they say they need to enter the 21st Century, and have found themselves in agreement that they need to be responsive to the needs of their communities. They want to force city governments to pay more attention to their needs.

Representatives from Athena, Helix, Milton-Freewater, Pendleton, Pilot Rock, Stanfield, Ukiah, Umatilla and Weston reported to the Umatilla County Special Library District at a strategic planning session held in the Pendleton Convention Center Monday night. Those who attended participated in individual meetings, and while each library had specific visions and needs, the librarians expressed many similar desires for the future.

The meetings were intended to help define what communities expect from libraries, what the libraries need from the library district to achieve these goals and how the facilities can become recognized as contributors to the economic development of their communities.

The conference room at the convention center was wallpapered in reports from those sessions. The two most important ideas, according to the unofficial ranking held at the end of the session, was that libraries had to be recognized as integral parts of the local government's infrastructure and had to be relevant to the needs of individual communities.

Other shared ideas included becoming more advanced technologically, rewriting mission statements to make them more relevant, drawing more people of all ages to libraries, expanding their corps of volunteers, raising staffing and the level of training to employees and mounting effective public relations campaigns within their communities.

The meetings also resulted in a call for more outreach in the schools, senior centers and other local organizations, more expertise in helping people who are seeking employment and becoming a repository for local historical items.

The meetings also resulted in suggestions on how these goals can be achieved, with more funding an obvious universal area of agreement. Some of those present called for the district to rewrite its bylaws, requiring the city governments to create library funds instead of allowing the community to simply put the money in its general fund.

"We want to know that the money's really going to the library and not to the pool," said Kathi Jenson, of Athena Library Friends Association.

One person attending the meeting asked if any elected officials, such as mayors or council members, were attending the strategic planning session. None came forward.

Milton-Freewater's Library Director Bob Jones said he's seen clear evidence that a new library enhances economic development in the community. He said a real estate agent credited the library with being a major selling point for people seeking new homes. Milton-Freewater's new library was built with grants and contributions.

City libraries have their own boards and are autonomous. About two-thirds of each library's funding comes from the library district. In Umatilla County that amounts to 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The average for the state is about 59 cents.

The planning session was led by Paul Koch, a Lake Oswego consultant who facilitated the town meetings. Koch will be aided by four volunteers in writing the final report on the sessions, prioritizing all of the points discussed. He estimated the group would have its report ready to submit to the district by the end of October.

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