Rawlins Library narrowly avoids closure

Staff departures nearly trigger library closure

Rawlins Daily Times, Trudy Balcom, File The Rawlins Public Library is pictured in this file photo. It was nearly shuttered Thursday, but will remain open — albeit with limited services.

Rawlins Daily Times, Trudy Balcom, File
The Rawlins Public Library is pictured in this file photo. It was nearly shuttered Thursday, but will remain open — albeit with limited services.

By Trudy Balcom

tbalcom@rawlinstimes.com

RAWLINS — The day-to-day operations of the Rawlins Public Library has become something like the twisting plot of a bad suspense novel. You know something’s going to happen, and it probably isn’t going to be good.

Late Wednesday evening, Library Board Chairperson Joann Whitson posted on Facebook from her personal account:

“I want the community to know that the Rawlins Branch Library will be closed beginning July 1st until we can hire staff.”

An emergency meeting of the Library Board was called by Library Director Bobbie Morgan on Thursday, the last day of fiscal year 2016, to ask the board what should be done about the lack of staff to keep the Rawlins Library open.

“We have to have a decision by 3 p.m. (Thursday). They have to decide what to do to keep the library open,” Morgan said.

Abandon ship?

Morgan said Thursday morning that all three remaining information specialists — those folks behind the counter who help library patrons and check out books — had resigned.

“We are trying to look at alternatives,” Morgan said.

She said only three people remain on the Rawlins Library payroll as of July 1 — Morgan herself, an IT person and a youth services manger who was recently hired.

There were five information specialists on staff when Morgan was hired in April.

The proposed budget cut from the county of almost 60 percent seems to have cast a shadow, prompting many library employees to resign. Other staff has expressed feelings that the library board and other officials have been disrespectful.

“They have their individual reasons,” Morgan said of the departures.

Open, but limited services

As the day wore on, no one on the library staff was sure if they library would be open Friday.

Then shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday, the Library Board released a “public statement” saying that the library would remain open, but with very limited services.

That decision was made by a board vote “by proxy,” the statement said. Whether that vote is valid under open meeting laws regulation is unclear.

“The facility will be open, but the only services available are read and return, public computer access and Story Time on Tuesday,” the release states.

Morgan clarified Thursday that “read and return” is not the same as checking out a book from the library’s collection.

In fact, books will not be available for checkout until the library can fill the vacant information specialist positions.

“Read and return” pertains to those books individuals have donated to the library, but are not a part of the library’s collections.

Morgan said that patrons can read library books while at the library, but they cannot check them out.

Role reversal

Just 10 days ago, it was the closure of the branch libraries that was in question.

Morgan and Whitson both made public statements in mid-June that the sharply reduced funding level proposed by the County Commissioners for fiscal year 2017 would likely force the closure of the branch libraries.

An outcry from citizens against the closure appeared on the library website, and Carbon County Commissioner Sue Jones stated in a June 16 email she did not want to see “…ANY libraries close…,” but seemed to address primarily branch libraries.

In that same email, Jones seemed to imply that the staffing at the Rawlins library was bloated: “Expenditures is where the staffing questions in the Main Branch in Rawlins arise. This is the area that I think could be streamlined in order to meet budget shortfalls,” she said.

Us vs. Them

An “Us vs. Them” tension seemed to develop between branch libraries and the main library at Rawlins.

That tension was partially addressed in an open letter Whitson posted on the library website on June 18 open letter to the community entitled “One Library System, Not Branches vs. Rawlins.”

A number of people from branch library communities attended a library board meeting held in Sinclair on June 20 to voice their concerns about the potential closure of the branch libraries.

At that point, library board members did not seem to think that closure of the Rawlins library could become an issue.

But what can be done with a staff of three?

Morgan said that she will focus on tying up loose ends, such as assuring books returned through the interlibrary loan system, which has been suspended, make it back to their home libraries.

“There’s a lot of little pieces to pull together,” she added.

And with her own departure just 17 days away, “I will be trying to get the files in order for the next person,” she said.

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