Eugene’s Downtown Public Library has four floors’ worth of books, music, games and other activities free to the public. Photo by Dana Fleming.

Losing a Third Space

Libraries in Eugene and across the country are facing budget cuts again

In the heart of downtown Eugene, the library’s four floors are bustling. There’s a teen lounge with weekly events, an outdoor play area for kids, vinyl listening parties and tutoring — just to name a few. Everything at the library is free and open to anyone. 

Eugene Public Library Foundation Executive Director Dana Fleming likes to call the Eugene library a “third space.” She defines it as a place that isn’t home or work, but a place you can just be –– free from financial barriers and social judgments. 

This third space, which was utilized as a daytime warming center when ice storms ravaged the city, is once again facing budget cuts. 

 In May 2023, Eugene Public Library, and its branches, was up against a $4 million budget cut, roughly 15 percent of its total budget, as part of the city of Eugene’s Biennial Budget for 2023-2025. The city came back in June 2023 offering the public library $30,000 for youth programming and $50,000 for youth materials. The library budget was still cut by $2 million per year..   

Nine months later the Eugene City Council has come back with more budget cuts across the board, with the library one of the potential services getting slashed. 

In 2023, the library cut 12 positions, ramped up fundraising partnerships with EPL Foundation and Friends of the Library and, as Fleming put it, “hoped the budget cuts won’t last forever.” 

“With our general budget from the city right now there is no money to buy new books, materials or run programming,” Fleming says. “If it wasn’t for the 2020 library levy [which promised to keep the Eugene library open at least 47 hours per week], the Friends of Library book sale, and the Library Foundation we would barely be able to run.”

Twylla Miller, Eugene’s chief financial officer, says “post-pandemic pressures” have left the city with a $15 million gap in the 2023-2025 budget. In addition to the structural gap, “there is $5 million in services that have been priorities for the City Council and the community, which had been funded with one-time funds, without a permanent funding source identified,” she says.

To address this additional $5 million necessary for programs that rely on one-time funds such as homeless shelters, Miller says that every program in the city is being considered for budget cuts. 

In the last round of budget cuts in July 2023, 31 percent of the Eugene Public Library staff was cut despite only comprising 3 percent of city staff. Fleming isn’t sure how many more budget cuts the library can take before having to diminish hours, and eventually close branches.

Fleming says, “It just feels like we should be a priority, because we do fill a lot of needs in the city, aside from just finding somewhere to find your favorite book.”

There’s an emphasis on ensuring kids’ needs are being met no matter what age or demographic they are. Tween rooms are equipped with free menstrual products and a box where middle-school-aged kids can ask anonymous questions about puberty and sexuality. In the children’s book area a book vending machine is filled with books exclusively written by Black and/or Indigenous people of color. On the first-floor teen lounge, bins are filled with free personal hygiene products, whiteboards are chock-full of posters of upcoming events and a TV sits in the middle of the room with free access to video games. 

“The library is free to anyone, even if you’re not a library card holder, you can be here. They don’t stop you at the door and ask you for your library card, which is kind of nice,” Fleming says. “But that’s also one of the things that dings us when budget cuts happen is that we don’t, by nature, raise revenue.”

The Eugene library isn’t the only one facing budget cuts. In Salem, city councilors are considering cutting eight positions from Salem Public Library, resulting in $1.2 million in budget cuts. Across the country, library budgets are also getting slashed. Seattle is facing major budget cuts to its public librarys, resulting in intermittent closures of most branches. 

Miller says the budget cuts for next year are still a work in progress. She says that the Eugene City Council has a work session on “Financial Update and Revenue Options,” scheduled for April 22 on these topics. The city budget committee is also scheduled to receive an update on this topic on May 22.

In the meantime, Fleming will continue to support the library in whatever way she can. She says, “The library creates community, not just a repository for knowledge, but also an opportunity to be able to be in space with other people and connect in ways that they may not have planned before.”

 To learn more about how you can support the Eugene Public Library Foundation go to To find more information about the Eugene Public Library go Eugene-Or.Gov/4422/Eugene-Public-Library.