Jan 18, 2024 - News

Librarians in Oregon are facing increasing burnout

Illustration of a red lifesaver rescuing a hardcover book

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Library staff are speaking up about the verbal and physical abuse they have been facing from the public, especially since the pandemic.

Why it matters: Librarians are vulnerable public servants, and their worsening morale due to inadequate protection poses a risk to the value of Portland's libraries.

Driving the news: The State Library of Oregon said in a recent media release that library workers face burnout and layoffs as funding is cut.

  • One month earlier, an audit of Multnomah County Libraries showed almost 72% of staff saying they felt afraid at work.

What they are saying: "Library work is important. It's also exhausting, falling upon library workers whose training and education may ill prepare them for such emotional labor," the state librarian Wendy Cornelisen wrote.

  • Salem-based Cornelisen said library staff "often work with people who are failed by other parts of society," citing those who are unhoused, first-generation college students, and "the LGBTQ+ youth who seeks refuge in the school library."
  • Cornelisen called statewide budget cuts to libraries "distressing," noting they had hit Eugene Public Library, Linn-Benton Community College and Beaverton City Library hard.
  • As well as shortened hours there is a "negative impact … on the morale and mental health of library staff."

Library workers are also being attacked in intellectual freedom challenges. In 2023, Oregon libraries saw 46 challenges to 93 titles — a record for the state — from activists seeking to get books they disapprove of withdrawn or reshelved.

  • "Any time I see a Toni Morrison title, I have to shake my head," Cornelisen tells Axios.
  • Library staff have been "intimidated and harassed, called groomers and pedophiles, or even received death threats," he wrote.

The big question: Cornelisen is tracking another threat. Over half of the 4.2 million people in Oregon get their library services funded in whole or part by a special or county service district. In Josephine County, there is a move to defund libraries by people who say they never use them and don't want to be taxed.

  • If the Josephine County Commission approves their tax withdrawal petitions, other special districts may be targeted, including other library districts across the state.

Yes, but: The remodeled Central Multnomah Library is scheduled to reopen in downtown Portland in February with more computers, outlets, bathrooms, and better sightlines.


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