Merging with BCC library, whereabouts of Frary Memorial Funds to be discussed with Library Board
After more than two hours of discussing the future of the Browning branch of the Glacier County Library, the Glacier County Commissioners assured concerned citizens they would not be closing the library–but merging the library with the academic library at Blackfeet Community College (BCC) was not ruled out.
The discussion was held on Thursday, Oct. 17 during the regular commissioner meeting in Cut Bank. The meeting was moved to the District Court courtroom to accommodate the nearly 30 people in attendance, including representatives of BCC, members of the Glacier County Library Board and two officials from the Montana State Library.
Glacier County Commission Chairman Michael DesRosier said the County will be conducting a “thorough cost analysis” before making any decisions. Several times throughout the meeting DesRosier claimed officials from the Department of Administration (DOA) advised the commissioners to close non-essential services due to the County’s dire financial condition. Among those services, DesRosier said, were the county library and museum.
“We’ve made a lot of changes in the operation of the County,” he stated, specifically citing budget cuts in all County departments. “We don’t want to eliminate any services we provide.”
Presentation on BCC’s Library Services
DesRosier invited Aaron LaFromboise of the Medicine Spring Library of BCC to provide a presentation of the college library’s access, services, hours, closures, governance, usage, etc. LaFromboise explained how the library is funded, programming and how she has recently reached out to surrounding communities, as well as the Browning and East Glacier schools, to promote access of the library to Cut Bank, Valier, Shelby, Choteau and Cardston, AB.
LaFromboise said she believes in “more library services” not less.
Library Board, Staff Express Concerns
Crystal Evans and two other members of the Glacier County Library Board were on hand to address any questions by the Commissioners but Evans stressed they weren’t asked to make a formal presentation. She told the Commissioners, “We’re here to answer any questions you have.”
A member of the audience asked the Commissioners how the Browning branch of the library is considered a non-essential service.
Commissioner Tom McKay responded, “We don’t see where non-essential fits the library,” pointing out the Commissioners are governed by the State’s definition.
“It’s what the State told us,” added DesRosier.
Glacier County Librarian Jamie Greco said she has talked with DOA officials and “they meant in no way to close the library” but instead were trying to make a point to the Commissioners about how serious the County’s financial situation is.
Vananda Yazzie, who is the lone employee at the Browning branch due to budget cuts, pointed out the focus of the BCC library “is always going to be academic.” She stressed it will not be safe for the children to walk to that location–having to cross the busy U.S. Highway 2.
Yazzie informed the Commissioners how much the library, its programming and services have improved and how much the community members utilize it.
“The last thing we want to do is close the Browning Library,” responded McKay.
Yazzie expressed frustration that the Commissioners have yet to visit with her about the future of the library–and her future as a county employee. “I would like to be included (in the discussions) and no one has approached me and it angers me…Everyone is talking above me.”
Human Resources Director Mike Kittson interjected, asking Yazzie to “keep professional” and stated, “no one ever said your position would be eliminated.” He stated the Commissioners have been having discussions “on options…We’re not looking to close it.”
Yazzie reminded the Commissioners that Greco had offered to make room in the library to house the Satellite Office services, saving the County from paying the $1,000 per month rent it currently pays now.
DesRosier replied, “We’re in fact-finding…nothing is happening. No decision has been made.”
Evans questioned why the Library Board and the library staff were not given the same option to prepare a formal presentation as LaFromboise. “It seems very one-sided.”
DesRosier said the Commissioners will give the Library Board and staff “more chances to prepare.”
Browning Branch Library By the Numbers
Greco said the library staff, at the request of the board, recently conducted some fact gathering. For FY 2018-19, the Browning branch had 6,765 total “daily count” patrons; 4,696 computer users; 2,069 wireless users; 527 program participants; and 1,155 wireless (Internet) sessions. The staff responded to 555 technical inquiries and 326 reference questions.
The Browning library’s hours were reduced to 30 hours per week beginning in July due to budget cuts.
Through the first three months of the 2019-20 fiscal year, the library has had a total of 2,140 “daily” patrons; 1,320 computer users; 804 wireless users; 521 wireless sessions; and responded to 201 technical inquires and 107 reference questions.
Programming was eliminated in mid-July due to the library’s budget cuts.
The branch library currently has 1,127 registered cardholders.
BCC’s library has 1,303 users, according to the report provided by LaFromboise with 50 percent of the library’s use occurring from noon to 4 p.m. Last year, 26,262 people visited the BCC library. The number of online catalog searches and books checked out from the BCC library were the same – 3,561.
BCC’s Medicine Spring Library received the 2018 Library Excellence Award from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums.
DesRosier questioned why Yazzie wasn’t working full-tine (40 hours). Greco responded it was due to the budget cuts. There are no library employees who work 40 hours per week. Greco only works 35 hours per week. “It’s all we can afford,” she explained.
Kittson informed the Commissioners the library “took a significant hit in personnel” due to budget cuts implemented by the Commissioners.
Role of the Library Board vs. Commissioners
Evans said approximately eight weeks ago the Library Board drafted a letter to the Commissioners, which Greco hand-delivered to their office, asking several questions. To date, the Board has not received a response.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about the Library Board…a lot we don’t understand,” responded DesRosier. The members of the Library Board are appointed by the County Commissioners.
Greco tried to explain, like she has in prior meetings, the role of the Board. “Ultimately, by law, you set the funding,” she stated, “what happens after that is up to the Library Board and they are committed to keeping the library open.”
McKay reiterated, “We’re not closing the library. We’d save more money closing the Satellite Office.”
DesRosier said, “Combining (with BCC) is still an option,” voicing again, “the State’s option is to close it down…Furloughs…nothing is going to take place in a year.”
Evans stated, “The community agrees with Aaron–we need more library services.”
Cost savings in merging with BCC?
Yazzie questioned, given the community’s high unemployment and health issues, “how is interrupting service good for the community?”
Greco questioned if the County were to give funding to BCC what the cost savings to the County would be?
“We wouldn’t be gaining anything,” responded McKay.
Commissioner John Overcast added, “I don’t want it to close either,” praising the work that both Yazzie and Greco have done. “I’m impressed by the amount of usage it has.”
The newest member of the Library Board, Browning’s Nick Hudak, who was appointed by the Commissioners last November, spoke on the “impeccable work Jamie has done” at the library, especially in light of the recent budget cuts. He stated the impact the library has in the community is “tremendous.”
On the possible merger with BCC’s library, Hudak said he would like to hear the views of the BCC student body on the option. “As a college student, I appreciated the academic setting,” he stated.
“We hold the public trust as the trustees of the library,” he continued. “I can’t imagine a community without a public library,” describing the Browning branch library as a welcoming, safe environment. “For the cost, it is very worthwhile.”
Library’s Missing Memorial Fund Money
Greco asked the Commissioners what happened to the library’s $46,000 Frary Memorial Fund. “The Memorial money is not there,” referring to the Library’s budget. “We have the public’s trust to protect.” The estate of Bessie Frary left the funds to the library for very specific uses–it was not to be used for the day-to-day operational expenses.
DesRosier said the Commissioners, Clerk and Recorder and CFO Chancy Kittson will address the issue but “not today.”
Evans asked that the board members receive advanced notice of the discussion. DesRosier said CFO Kittson could attend the meeting of the board to explain. Greco asked that at least one of the Commissioners be in attendance since they sign off on the library’s annual budget.
State Library Officials Clarify Library Board’s Authority over Library
The Commissioners invited Tracy Cook and Evan Hammer of the Montana State Library to speak on the legal aspect of the Library Board and its duties and responsibilities and to share information on how Roosevelt County merged one of its branch libraries with Tribal Community College library in Poplar.
Cook was explicit in pointing out the law gives the Library Board the authority to decide the location of branch libraries–not the Commissioners.
DesRosier wrapped up the meeting saying the Commissioners would continue to discuss the issue and would hold public meetings on the issue.
McKay questioned Cook and Hammer, “Are we taking advantage of all that is available?” They responded they would provide additional information to the Commissioners.
“I’m for leaving the library where it is at,” said Overcast.