EVANSTON — Amid a slew of budget cuts, the Uinta County libraries have had to make even more cuts to staff. As of April 1, it no longer has an official director, and each of the three libraries in the county had to lay off a children’s assistant.
Claire Francis, who is assuming some of previous director George Strawley’s duties, said Strawley and the Uinta County Library Board mutually decided to lay him off to save money.
“We owe him a debt of thanks for all the good he’s done,” Francis said, noting that the layoffs will hurt the whole community. “... I hope the community realizes what a treasure we’re losing by losing George. He really was a good leader of the library system.”
When the Herald contacted Strawley, he said simply that he was let go for economic reasons, and he is in the process of looking for another job.
“I appreciate the opportunity that the library has given me,” he said. “... The crew there is an excellent one. So are the supporters of the library.”
In addition to the four layoffs, Francis said library employees will lose visual and dental insurance coverage come July 1. If they want that insurance, they will have to get it for themselves.
“And that’s a beginning but ... it’s probably not going to be enough,” she said, looking into the libraries’ budget cutting needs.
In the absence of a director, Francis has been told that Strawley’s job description will be added to hers, and other staff are having to pick up some slack as well. Overall, the libraries’ biggest concern now is staffing and how to fund it.
“We’ve been cutting for years and years, so it’s really getting down to cutting deep now,” she said.
“We are fairly short-staffed even now in all of the different libraries,” Francis said. “We’re trying to do and accomplish most of what we normally do.”
On the bright side, the book budget isn’t a worry for now because of the endowment.
There are few grants that can be applied to staffing, so even while new books hit the displays and shelves almost weekly (the libraries have been able to start withdrawing from the Endowment Fund, so book budget isn’t a concern for now), the current employees have to take on even more for less remuneration.
Francis admitted she is having a difficult time with the transition as she tries to get organized and even just figure out what questions to ask. As the library moves forward, Francis is asking the community to have patience.
The library is still planning its events and programs, such as the annual summer reading program organized by children’s librarian Michelle Kallas.
People who are interested in helping out can also volunteer, although regular volunteers would be most helpful. Francis added that more volunteer hours can help the library when it applies for grants as well.
What next year’s final budget will look like is just a guess, but because the libraries are funded by mill levies and the state and county are struggling, it’s looking grim. The state is also looking at a difficult year, since the federal government is looking to make some significant national cuts as well, which will hit Wyoming — and not just public libraries, but school and university libraries as well.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen to that one until Congress passes the budget. And then it hurts because the county level hurts, so you look to the state for funding who looks to the ... [federal government] for funding,” Francis said. “It gets a little scary.”
Wyoming’s library system also provides services like the database and interlibrary loan. If too much is cut, citizens could see some services increase in cost or even disappear.
Francis is holding out hope, though, since organizations like the National Library Association and Wyoming’s state library association are lobbying to make sure legislators know how important programs like libraries are.
All told, though, the libraries are looking toward the future with hope and determination to keep providing what the communities need.
“I’m so unlike a lot of people that say libraries are an outdated thing. I don’t believe that,” Francis said. “I believe they’re an ... [integral] part of the community and really would be a loss. ... I believe we will continue.”
She commended the board for their leadership in tough times, adding that the board members are the ones who really choose the libraries’ direction.
“I hope I can get us through this little point and into the future,” Francis said. “Because we need a future.”