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saw 46 challenges to 93 titles — a record for the state — from activists seeking to get books they disapprove of withdrawn or reshelved.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.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Portland.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Portland stories

No stories could be found

Portlandpostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Portland.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more