1990s Library

Deschutes by the Decades: 1990s

Deschutes County residents numbered 76,034 at the end of 1990, a year in which the curve of the growth chart grew steeper. It was in this decade that the county population topped 100,000, reflecting a steady growth pattern that would be a hallmark of the decades to come.

The 1990s began with a familiar refrain: a lack of funds led to decreased hours and closures at libraries in the county. A year after voters rejected a 1990 bond measure to upgrade the branches for the growing community, libraries were forced to close for two days each week and staff hours were reduced. The lack of funds had other impacts, as well. A roof leak in 1992 led to the damage of books at the Downtown Bend location.

Three years later, in 1995, Redmond residents considered a bond measure that would fund the renovation of the old Jessie Hill School—originally built in 1929—allowing its conversion into the new library. The measure passed with broad approval that March, giving residents the promise of much more space and increased access. Renovations were completed and the doors of the new Redmond Library opened to the public in 1996.

That same year, Bend residents listened in as Deschutes County commissioners and the county’s library board explored three possible sites for a new Bend Library: one atop Hospital Hill near Franklin Avenue and Lava Road, one north of county offices at Wall Street and Lafayette Avenue, and the third at the library’s then-current site on Wall Street. The newly formed Deschutes County Public Library Foundation began fundraising that year. By 1996, a site was chosen, but it wasn’t one of the original three. Instead, the new library site was one block north of the original Bend Library, where a former National Guard armory and Pacific Power building stood.

Despite the eye on growth, a problem persisted: libraries remained a line item on the county budget, forever competing for resources with other departments. A gradual erosion of funding for services reached a climax in 1997/1998, with staff cuts nearing 20%, libraries closing on additional days, and a book budget slashed by 80%. The decision was made to put to voters a measure that would allow the formation of the Deschutes Public Library District, which would provide adequate and stable funding for decades to come.

The measure was on the ballot in May 1998, and though the majority of voters approved it, the initiative failed because fewer than 50% of voters turned out for the election. Not willing to give up, the team of volunteers and the Foundation pursued a second election that same year, and on November 3, 1998, voters overwhelmingly approved the establishment of the Deschutes Public Library District, beginning a new chapter for libraries in Deschutes County. The new two-story Downtown Bend Library opened its doors in 1998, and the “old” library was converted to offices for the district’s administrative staff. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

While the 1990s were a pivotal decade for libraries in Deschutes County, the time-period also saw regional events dominating national news. In 1993, Oregon became the first state in the nation with statewide vote-by-mail; U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding whirled into the Olympic Games in 1994, engulfed in controversy; U.S. Senator Bob Packwood resigned from the Senate amidst allegations of sexual harassment in 1995; and in 1998 Keiko the orca whale (from Free Willy) was transferred from the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport to Iceland, where he was eventually released into open waters.

Deschutes County ended the decade with a population of 110,810 in 1999. There was no denying that the word was out: Central Oregon was a gem in the Cascade Mountains, and growth would skyrocket in the coming years.

Page Last Modified Wednesday, July 29, 2020