After a year of challenges and discord, we now have an opportunity to choose a brighter future by voting for a measure that will benefit our community for decades to come. Voters will consider a bond request from the Deschutes Public Library District for its first building improvement campaign in 22 years. The bond will build a new Central Library near the Cascade Village Shopping Center in north Bend, double the size of the Redmond Library, and renovate libraries in Sisters, Sunriver, La Pine, and Bend.

Why is this needed? Because we’re out of space and out of options—for books and for people. More than 800,000 people pass through our doors and check out more than 2.5 million items annually. Our buildings weren’t meant to handle our current population and the growth that is coming.

While this money will go towards bricks and mortar, it’s what’s inside those buildings that will make all the difference. The improvements are substantial: an exciting Learning and Discovery center to build literacy skills and inspire a love of reading and curiosity in children; more meeting rooms with a variety of sizes; flexible space for new types of creative programs; space for public gatherings and performances; improved technology; and, of course, more room for books (we’re full to bursting now). The new Central Library will include a high-efficiency materials-handling system, designed to speed delivery of books to libraries throughout the county.

That sorting and distribution is now handled in cramped space in the downtown Bend library, which was never designed to house such functions. The bond will allow us to expand our public spaces at all branches, increase building flexibility, and bring our library facilities into the 21st century.

Redmond, which has tripled in population since the existing library opened in the old Jessie Hill School, will get a stunning new building twice the size of the current library. It will be built on the existing site, an anchor to Redmond’s burgeoning civic core. All of our other branches will be upgraded, increasing public space and flexibility. East Bend, our newest branch, will continue to operate in leased space.

This request wasn’t hasty. This bond proposal is the culmination of six years of planning on the part of the library staff, board, and local residents. More than 5,000 Deschutes County citizens participated in this process, identifying community needs and hopes for the future. These plans are the direct outgrowth of that careful process.

When we formed the library district, we promised voters that we would not return to voters for at least 10 years. This measure, 22 years later, is the first time we’ve requested any additional money.

In the meantime, we’ve maintained our current buildings scrupulously and paid off all debt to limit the impact of this bond on taxpayers. Through careful saving, we’ve managed to purchase 12 acres of land for the proposed Central Library, so that cost is not included in the bond measure.

The measure would cost only about 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s a bargain considering the years of value these libraries will provide to coming generations.

Since our libraries were founded 100 years ago, they’ve become the preeminent cultural centers of Deschutes County and gained national praise. Our libraries spark our imaginations, entertain us, and offer the chance for us to gather in a safe environment, exploring issues and learning from each other. Libraries provide free access to EVERYONE, making libraries the great equalizer.

These buildings will be a statement for coming generations of our values — that we cared enough to invest now in a rich future for everyone.

As broadcaster Walter Cronkite said, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Please join me in voting yes for libraries and the future of our communities.

Ann Malkin is a board member of the Deschutes Public Library and chair of the state library board.

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