Cuts taking toll on library hours, books, night eventsApr 27, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer
Fremont County Library System leadership has already taken action to make cuts that will accommodate a proposed 10 percent budget reduction for the upcoming fiscal year.
For starters, the libraries in Riverton and Lander now close at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. each day, and organizations that want to use the libraries' meeting rooms after hours will be charged a $25 fee.
Library board chair Nancy Wright said the new hours so far have reduced interest for evening programs in Lander, but not in Riverton.
The Dubois library is now closed on Mondays, and in the coming fiscal year, the budget for library collections countywide is expected to be significantly reduced. About $10,000 is expected to be cut from collection development, with another $11,500 in cuts from library e-books.
Earlier this year, the Fremont County Commission asked elected officials and department heads to try to reduce their budgets by 10 percent.
The library system has been one of the few departments to meet that mark. Yet in recent months the county board's attitude toward library leadership has been, at times, openly hostile. Commissioners have frequently refused the library board's requests to fill open positions, and Commissioner Clarence Thomas questioned the library's organizational structure early in his tenure.
Many of the county's "off-line" boards -- like the library board -- operate like an advisory board, only making recommendations to commissioners. However, almost all are legally structured as governing boards.
After Thomas learned about the library board's structure, he stepped back from his hard-line position.
"I apologize for some of my actions before," he told library leaders on Tuesday. "You shouldn't have to go through two governing boards."
Thomas said that such a system creates a preposterous redundancy in governance.
"In the dictionary, that would be right under insanity," he said.
Other commissioners, including Jennifer McCarty and commission chairman Travis Becker, continue to scrutinize the library leadership and budget requests.
Last year, for example, the library board was allowed to buy new self-checkout kiosks at $3,000 a piece. The purchase came with a promise that the kiosks would allow for reduced staffing.
When McCarty asked about that issue Tuesday, library business manager Rebecca Thomas said the machines have allowed the Riverton library to go without two part-time positions.
"So, in other words, you really haven't reduced personnel that much," McCarty said.
Newly hired head librarian Janette McMahon said it would be important to replace many aging computers soon. She said neglecting the machines would hinder the public's ability to "apply for jobs or complete homework."
The libraries have a six-year purchase schedule for computers, and they're already behind schedule after last year's budget cuts.
The libraries recently applied for $27,000 from the county's capital revolving fund, a request that was denied. Becker implied Tuesday that the purchase of new computers was wasteful, and outside of the purpose of a library.
"Is it (really) for people to go on Youtube and Facebook and to play games?" he asked.
McMahon said technology is an important asset to a modern library, regardless of how some might choose to use the computers.
"Whether you want to listen to violins or watch cat videos, we can't dictate that, because we are a public facility," she said.
McMahon said good computers allow the libraries to offer science, technology engineering and math education, computer programming lessons and programs provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
"You cannot do that on a $200 computer," she said.
In the library budget request, former interim director Jeannette Woodward said "we live in a culture that assumes everyone can communicate online."
"Fremont County has a high poverty rate, and this assumption is not valid for many county residents," she said.