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Perry Stokes – Director, Baker County Library District

It’s like being a kind of Santa Claus for the community.

Perry Stokes

“Being director of the library is a great job. It’s like being a kind of Santa Claus for the community, keeping an ear open to what is on everyone’s wish list and delivering gifts that everyone can share.

I’ve been here 14 years and this is a fantastic library system. We have a wonderful staff team and terrific support from the public both with usage and funding the library. Since we are a Library Special District, we have full independence and flexibility to make things happen. The revenue we get directly from property taxes across the county enables us to make our own decisions about how best to use the funds to serve the public.

I’m a second generation librarian. My dad started out as a dairy farmer, went on to become a Secondary Education English teacher, and then a School Librarian in Idaho. So, a lot of my youth was spent in the library helping Dad do inventory projects or just being there and waiting for him to finish projects. As an adult, I worked in bookstores, music stores, and a university library. I tried my own hand at teaching, but found that I didn’t enjoy the performative and disciplinarian roles teaching requires. The encouragement and example of my Dad led me to being a librarian. Here I do get to be a teacher, but on a one-on-one basis. Not deciding what people need to know, but helping them explore, discover, and find information they’re interested in.

This is National Library Week, starting April 4. It is an annual campaign started by the American Library Association in 1958. The slogan this year is Welcome to the Library, but we haven’t really been gone. Even through much of the lock-down, we were still serving with our digital collections and through our drive-up window. Our doors have been open consistently since last July. We actually had somebody come in today and say, ‘Oh, it’s nice to see you open. When did you do that?’ Well, it was nine months ago! So it’s good to remind people, ‘Yes, your library is here.’ You may not use the library regularly, but we’re here when you need us. When somebody’s home computer, or network goes down, or their printer dies, we often see people come to us at that time of urgent need. We enjoy being able to help.

For Library Week, we’re encouraging folks to restart their library use particularly those that have lapsed due to some financial block. We’ve always had a Clean Slate program and are expanding on that. If somebody runs into fines trouble, we waive all their late fines with no questions asked. That’s been a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But this year, we’re giving a special National Library Week Clean Slate opportunity. People can also get a new library card for no charge if they’ve lost theirs.

We want folks to be prepared to utilize the new programs we’re launching. We just started checking out WiFi hot spots which we purchased with some CARES Act money. And we hope to get a few more laptops to check out with the new American Rescue Plan Act funding. We’re looking to provide streaming services and access to more ebooks, audio books, and movies. We also have America’s News, an online database that offers thousands of newspapers with full text content including the Oregonian and the Baker City Herald. We’ll soon be promoting our updated Spanish language collection. Last year we participated in a program called Libros for Oregon and have added about 50 new titles to our collection.

With every change in technology, our budget gets stretched a little thinner because we still have to collect the materials in the traditional print and audio formats, but also have copies in new digital formats. So it is a challenge. But we find ways to do it. We always encourage people to give us requests for items that they want us to have. Our goal is to have a patron-driven collection. We make our best guesses on what people want based on past history and national trends, but when people voice their particular interests that helps us target our service to their needs. Folks are already funding the library with tax money and we want them to get the best value out of that investment.”

Learn more about the Baker County Library District at https://www.bakerlib.org/ and on Facebook.