Multnomah County Library’s strong foundation

Vailey Oehlke

Dear Multnomah County Library patron,

I write to you today for the last time as Multnomah County Library director before I retire. I am hopeful for the future and grateful for this community’s steady support of its public library system. Multnomah County Library is in good shape, thanks to the support of patrons and community members, the investment of voters, the dedication of library staff, and the vision of its leaders.

A public library system belongs to the community it serves. It represents our highest shared ideals and aspirations: a place for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, resources and a physical space where everyone is welcome. Creating a place for everyone, especially people and communities who are furthest from opportunity, is a fine balance that requires constant work and commitment. 

Over the past 15 years while I was director of libraries, Multnomah County Library has changed a lot, and for the better. Today, the library features books, programs and personal help in Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese, plus staffing and services for the Black and Native communities. Nearly two million books and other items are there for you to enjoy.

Our library puts the world at your fingertips, from millions of free e-books and audiobooks to research databases or popular newspapers and magazines. The library is a place where a teenager could learn computer-assisted design and coding skills to prepare for the workplace or someone can rely on the fast internet connections to stay connected with loved ones. 

Brand new libraries are just around the corner. This summer, Holgate Library will reopen with three times the space as before and new features for children and teenagers, along with spaces to build technology skills, work and share with others, or settle in for a quiet and comfortable place to read. Midland Library will follow, with more room and new features. Down the road, Albina, North Portland, Belmont, Northwest and St. Johns libraries will complete their own transformations, with community desires and input at the heart. A brand new East County Library is also coming, with space to rival Central Library downtown but also an amphitheater that seats more than 200 people, new technologies for learning and play and something new for everyone in East County.

Multnomah County Library has a bright future and a strong foundation. As Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson leads the search for a new library director to move our library forward, the library is in very capable hands with Annie Lewis as interim director and Dave Ratliff as interim deputy director. Both of these leaders are exceptionally smart, dedicated and capable of taking care of our library system as it begins its own next chapter. 

I am profoundly grateful to have been its leader these past 15 years. This library exists for the people it serves. Thank you so much for your patronage and support, especially as the library continues to evolve and adapt in response to this community’s needs. A sincere thank you to Multnomah County Chairs, Commissioners, leaders and my many colleagues over the past 27 years. 

Our beloved library began 160 years ago. It is something this community has held dear and nurtured along the way. The library today represents so much more than the initial store of books its founders bought to have shipped around Cape Horn. It is a living thing that reflects who we are as individuals and as a community. It will grow and change as our community wishes. Multnomah County Library is special. May it forever strive to be the best reflection of our shared hopes and ideals.