Since the early 1980s, many communities across Oregon have sought to strengthen public library services through the creation of taxing districts. Passed by ballot measures, these districts form a permanent tax base to be used specifically for public library services, and this dedicated funding is levied from property taxes within district boundaries. The resulting library districts all address different local needs and challenges through setting slightly different priorities, so that no two Oregon library districts look quite the same.
Currently, there are two main structural differences in how library districts in Oregon are governed. Special districts operate with autonomy from other local governmental entities. They are governed by a board of directors or trustees who are elected by local vote specifically for the purpose of governing the library district. County service districts, while still operating on permanent, dedicated library funds, are usually overseen by county commissioners. County service districts often rely on library advisory boards or councils which help advise commissioners on library services.
Some library districts in Oregon provide library services to a region through centralized operations, either through a single library location, through multiple branches/outlets, or in some cases through a bookmobile or other mobile outreach efforts. Other districts coordinate certain services through intergovernmental agreements with municipal or nonprofit member libraries. In many cases, these coordinated services include a shared library catalog and resource sharing (via courier services), coordinated purchasing of electronic resources, shared networks and other digital infrastructures, and public programming.
Geographic boundaries of library districts in Oregon can vary just as much as the level of coordinated services. While most county service districts serve an entire county, sometimes a municipality will choose not to join a district at the time of formation. Examples include Johnson City in Clackamas County, Mosier in Wasco County, and Nyssa & Vale in Malheur County.
Special districts are often created on the basis of existing school, fire, and/or hospital districts; however, special district boundaries can take any shape, and need not be contiguous. To date, there are three noncontiguous special library districts in Oregon: Siuslaw Public Library District, Oregon Trail Library District, and Josephine Community Library District. Special districts can also extend across county lines. For example, a small portion of Jefferson County is part of Deschutes Public Library District.