Access to the Library for Youth

Feb. 24 event seeks to fundraise for student access to the resources at the Eugene Public Library for kids outside city limits 

Eugene K through 12 students who don’t live within city limits will benefit from a Feb. 24 public library card fundraiser seeking to provide them with free library cards. 

“We know that access to libraries has a correlation with literacy. It helps improve reading for students and it ultimately helps improve student achievement in general,” says Jenny Jonak, the organizer of the event at Tsunami Books and a Eugene 4J School Board member.

Students who live within city limits and all 4J students automatically qualify for free cards at the Eugene Public Library, but for those who live outside city limits and go to public charter schools or are homeschooled, the household cost is $130 per year. 

As a personal endeavor — not part of her work on the 4J board — Jonak partnered with Lane Educational Service District, Lane Education Foundation and the Eugene Public Library to close these gaps in access and increase library services for youth.

Angela Ocaña, the acting interim director for the Eugene Public Library, says it’s important for people of all ages to have access to the library, but the support cycle starts with youth access. 

“It’s just like this whole circle of how a library can take care of you and your life cycle is pretty cool,” she says.

The library has unique focuses for different ages of children, where a library card isn’t needed for access. There’s a play area for younger kids where they can play with dinosaurs and LEGOS DUPLOS. The “tween area” is for 9 to 12-year-olds with non-fiction books and a crafting area, Ocaña says.

“We started to see kids not only utilize our physical resources like books, but we also see them using the spaces in new and unique ways,” she says. 

All three library locations — downtown, Bethel and Sheldon —  have a “teen center” where older kids can play board games, make art and use computers. If they do have a card, they can check out video games and controllers and items from the “library of things” like baking tools, a sewing machine, a robot cat and even a telescope. Having a card also allows access to online resources like ebooks, audiobooks and a TV streaming service.

With private fundraising, Jonak says thousands of dollars have already been donated. The goal is to raise at least $10,000. Since the library is supporting about four-fifths of costs, this would cover about 400 library cards. Jonak says they plan to distribute an equal amount to homeschooled and charter school students at Coburg Community Charter, Village School and Ridgeline Montessori. 

“It’s not a huge number of students, but I still think every student that doesn’t have that access, it’s meaningful,” Jonak says. “I had one teacher from Village School contact me and say that she usually pays for these cards for her students that aren’t covered, out of pocket, but this year she had so many she couldn’t afford to pay for all of them.” The Village School is one of Lane County’s first charter schools. 

At the Feb. 24 event, several speakers will emphasize the importance of student library access including Kitty Piercy, former mayor of Eugene, and a homeschooling family who benefit immensely from the library’s resources that help their child who has dyslexia, Jonak says. There will be two classical violinists performing at the beginning of the event.

Jonak hopes to distribute the fundraised cards in the spring so students and families can get familiarized with using the library in time for summer, which is “a time of high learning loss,” Jonak says. With a library card, they can continue reading and learning throughout the summer.

“When we read books, not only do we see someone else’s perspective, but we see all the possibilities of what we could grow up to be, and that’s so important for kids to see and read,” Jonak says.

The library card fundraiser is 3 pm Feb. 24 at Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette Street. To find out more or contribute, email or call 541-525-9102.