Kate Lasky | Movers & Shakers 2019 – Community Builders

When Kate Lasky became director of what was then Oregon’s Josephine Community Libraries (now the Josephine Community Library District) in 2010, she knew she had a hard road ahead. All four of the county’s libraries had shut down in 2007 from lack of public funding, and a group of concerned citizens had raised $600,000 to reopen them 18 months later as a nonprofit.

Kate Lasky

CURRENT POSITION

Library Director, Josephine Community Library District, Grants Pass, OR

DEGREE

M.Ed., Northern Arizona University, 2010

FOLLOW

@KateLasky; Josephine Community Libraries (Facebook)

Photo by Dave Weich, Sheepscot Creative

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Library Rebuilder

When Kate Lasky became director of what was then Oregon’s Josephine Community Libraries (now the Josephine Community Library District) in 2010, she knew she had a hard road ahead. All four of the county’s libraries had shut down in 2007 from lack of public funding, and a group of concerned citizens had raised $600,000 to reopen them 18 months later as a nonprofit.

Realizing the library needed long-term, stable funding in order to thrive, Lasky worked tirelessly to transform the nonprofit into a publicly funded library district. “If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to do it and take it to the next level,” says Lasky. In 2014, she and the library’s volunteers got a measure on the ballot for taxpayers to vote on, but it was defeated.

“The next morning, I came to work 100 percent focused on the roughly 15,500 people who voted yes. I was sad about the failure for a few hours, but I had 300 volunteers to answer to. I had a community to support. So I worked with my team, partnered with the local newspaper, and started a campaign.”

That was the Yellow Envelope Drive, through which people could donate money in lieu of taxes to keep the library open. The first year the drive raised $180,000; the second, $170,000; and the third, $200,000. In May 2017, a measure to fund the library publicly finally passed.

Lasky credits the success to taxpayers’ change of heart. How did Lasky get taxpayers to change their minds? “The truth is that I didn’t get folks to do anything,” she says. “I helped them do what they wanted to do, which was to keep their libraries open and thriving with more programs, an updated collection, better and more hours, and long-term stable funding.” She’s also provided opportunities for people to have a voice in what goes on in the libraries.

Take the Great Book Grab, for instance. After weeding the libraries’ outdated collections, Lasky and her team gave folks a chance to “rehome” the items instead of recycling, selling, or throwing them away. “Three hundred people formed a line a half-hour before the doors opened on a cold January morning [and] about 5,000 items avoided the landfill. People helped the library by creating more shelf space for newer...material. It was a win-win-win!”

“The ten-year effort to keep libraries open and thriving in Josephine County took the heroic dedication of hundreds of volunteers and community leaders, not just me,” says Lasky. “And that’s the best part—libraries build community.”

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