Thalia Rutherford loves, loves, loves going to the Glacier County Library and “reading” books, playing with the educational toys and enjoys meeting new friends. With the recent budget cuts, the hours and staff at both the Cut Bank and Browning branches of the county library have been reduced.

A year ago, the Glacier County Libraries were asked to cut $56,000 from their annual budget. Director Jamie Greco and the Library Board for both the Cut Bank and the Browning branches of the Glacier County Public Library diligently did as they were asked, knowing full well, that meant cutting services, hours and employees.

When the Fiscal Year 2020 budget came out, the Glacier County Commissioners informed Greco she would need to cut another $60,500 from the budget. That left the two libraries with a budget of less than $200,000 for the upcoming year. 

Greco and the library board began wondering how the library was going to continue to function and serve the people of Glacier County in any capacity.

“The majority of the cuts have to come from staff, hours and programming,” Greco said. “We cannot do business and provide services for this county like we have in the past. With that limited budget, we are going to have trouble just keeping the doors open.”

In FY 2018, the two libraries had nine part-time employees. They had 11 employees that were budgeted the year before. Now, to run two libraries and serve the East Glacier Women’s Club Library, they have four employees, all of whom, including Greco as the Director, work less than a 40-hour week.

The Cut Bank branch has had to change their hours of operation, and are now only open 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday. They have been forced to close their doors on Saturday, which was a hugely popular day for students, teachers and other community members to use library services. There are only three staff members working in the Cut Bank branch of the library.

The Browning branch of the county library only has one staff member and is now only open for 30 hours a week. 

“The State of Montana Public Library Standards require libraries serving a population the size of Glacier County to be open at least 40 hours a week, with 50-60 hours being desirable,” Greco shared. “In Cut Bank, we are busy enough that we could use three employees during our busiest times of the day, plus we need fill-ins for when someone is sick or takes leave.”

She continued, “Library employees serve our public by serving as reference librarians, assisting or teaching patrons in basic computer use and spend many hours planning and implementing programs for children and adults. These programs gather together all generations of socio and economic levels. They are very important programs for our communities.”

Greco said thanks to the dedication of her staff, they are all working together to try and find ways to keep the good works they do, on task and available.

“We have an excellent staff at both libraries. Rose Grubb and Austin Castle here in Cut Bank and Vananda Yazzie in Browning are keeping the libraries functioning as best as we can. But with limited staff and now, a very limited budget, it is getting increasingly difficult.”

So just how busy is the Cut Bank branch of the County Library?

From July 2018 to June of 2019, a total of 23,065 people came through their doors. That is almost eight times the number of people living in Cut Bank! 

Obviously, some of those are repeat visitors, but nevertheless, that is over 23,000 patrons coming in to use library services, asking for help, checking out books that must be checked back in upon their return, needing assistance to use the computers, find a book or participate in a program offered through the library.

In that same time frame, over 5,600 people came in to use a library computer. Those coming in the doors to use the library’s wireless services for Internet or email access, numbered 1,267. 

And during that same 12-month period, library staff answered 531 reference questions or technical questions.

The Browning branch of the Glacier County library saw 6,765 people come through their doors, 4,696 computer users and just over 2,000 users needing a wireless service. That library with its sole employee answered 881 reference and technical questions. 

“We have a large number of people using our libraries,” Greco stated. “Those numbers do not accurately reflect how much time we may spend with patrons. For example, we might have a teacher come from the schools to ask if they can check out anywhere from 30 to 100 books for their classroom. We are more than happy to do that, but that one task takes time and then those same books have to be checked back in when they are returned. A new computer user may also require significant staff time being guided through the ‘how-to’s’ of the computer. And planning and preparing for any of our programs, is another huge time commitment.”

Greco added, “Do not get me wrong, we love helping our patrons, teachers and putting on the valuable programs we offer. These are all things we want to be able to do for everyone using our library. But they are perfect examples of why budget cuts to our employees, is hurting us so much.”

This past summer, the library’s Summer Reading Program, which is hugely popular for children and adults, had over 150 people sign up. That number is the greatest number they have seen for Summer Reading in years.

“People probably do not think of the library as a place where kids come during the summer and after school on a regular basis. Reducing programs we offer for kids and closing the library earlier or even closing the doors on Saturdays, means there is not a place for those kids to come and spend time. Libraries keep some of those kids off the street and in the same breath, provides them with some amazing educational benefits.”

In addition to being a place to learn, Greco said, “Our staff has developed a great report with the kids coming to the library. They have shown themselves to be positive adult role models to the kids spending time here with us.”

There are a number of programs the library offers, over and above the Summer Reading Program. Two of those are Lego Club and Maker Space, both designed with kids in mind and both of them having up to 50 kids a session come into the library. 

“We are going to have to have the discussion on whether or not we keep those programs running for the kids. This second round of budget cuts may mean reducing more programs and more hours, as that truly is the only place where we can meet those new budget demands.”

There are no easy answers for how to manage the library appropriately, keep it open and meet the budget cuts being asked of the library. Greco knows this and turned to the governing body of the library, the Glacier County Library Board of Trustees, to assist her on how best to manage the public libraries.  

The trustees sent a letter to the Glacier County Commissioners dated Aug. 6, reiterating their concerns and asking the Commissioners to assist them by keeping the lines of communication open and answering some questions which pertain to the budget.

To date, neither Greco nor the trustees have received a response.

That is not the first time Greco has not had her questions answered. “It is difficult getting answers on any of the questions regarding our budget concerns.” 

For now, Greco said the library is open and they are doing what they can for the county patrons they love to serve.

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