Ontario, Oregon lies just over the Idaho border and is in the largely agricultural east of Oregon. It is a place of windswept plains and brown earth. I met with assistant director Joyce McCurdy, a former teacher and a lovely woman who is fighting the good fight. The library has overcome some pretty lethal obstacles in the recent past. Ontario was faced with losing their library. They are in Malheur County, the poorest county in Oregon, but the community managed to keep it together by having its library district itself with other local small libraries, and therefore remain a viable service to their community. They have a large space with multiple patron computers, two floors of print books, a large children’s area, and on the day I was there, the place was busy, especially considering it was only days away from the Thanksgiving holiday. Their print book collection could, in my opinion, bear some weeding, but the focus is shifting to online resources and community outreach. They have multiple programs for children and adults, including a book mobile. They have a large selection of archival material and house the local historical society’s manuscripts and newspapers.
The wifi was robust and useful. I mentioned to her my pet peeve of libraries password protecting their wifi and/or turning it off after hours, and she told us the reason they turn theirs off after hours (and believe me, she said, it was a hot issue) is because before they did that they had vagrancy and vandalism issues outside the library doors. Sad, but understandable. I am glad they have regular hours for that reason alone.
A new challenge for them that is looming on the horizon: According to Joyce, she gave me a rough estimate that Ontario school rolls have about 60% kids of Hispanic origin, and even though these children are being taught English in the schools, the library is stepping up their game and is boosting their Spanish language materials, especially for the adults who come in with their children.
Malheur County is very lucky to have that resource so active and viable. Keep up the good work!