Garfield County Library District selects director
A little more than one year after the previous executive director of the Garfield County Library District resigned for a new job, the district has a new leader.
The library board last week selected Jesse Henning, who has been manager of the Rifle Branch Library since August, to take the helm of a district that has seen substantial improvements in the past 10 years, but is currently facing financial hardship.
Henning, described as energetic and engaging by library trustees and others, officially starts the new job Friday. A graduate of Ohio State University with a master’s degree in library and information science from Kent State University in Ohio, Henning said he is looking forward to becoming more ingrained in Rifle and each community that the district serves.
“The more I get involved and the more that I see … the more I get excited,” he said Tuesday in his office at the Rifle library.
For the board, which underwent a lengthy search involving several offers to candidates who rejected offers, the excitement is mutual.
“First of all he’s passionate about the job,” said Nella Barker, outgoing president of the library board. “He’s a very professional librarian, and I know that’s kind of a funky title in this day and age, but he’s very proud of his accomplishments and he’s very confident — he’s exciting. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe him.”
The board members were not the only people impressed by Henning.
“I think he’ll be an asset not only to the library, but to the entire community,” said Gary Miller, a Rifle business owner who spoke in favor of Henning’s hire at the library board meeting last week.
Henning, Miller added, is one of several young leaders in the community who demonstrate a high level of passion for their profession.
“He’s very energetic and totally passionate about libraries.”
Henning, 28, said he never envisioned becoming the executive director when he accepted the Rifle branch manager job in August. It was the staff that initially brought him to Garfield County from Westerville Public Library in Ohio, where he worked as a youth services librarian.
He lives in Silt with his wife, Carrie Waibel, also a librarian. Under his employment agreement, Henning will make $83,200 — the base salary for the director’s position. The contract is for one year with the option for an annual renewal.
Henning steps into the executive role at a challenging time for the library district.
As is the case with other jurisdictions that rely on property tax, the library district is looking at a dramatic decrease in revenue in the coming fiscal year primarily due to a drop in natural gas production in the county. In terms of actual numbers, the district is projecting a $1.2 million decrease in revenue for the 2017 budget.
In presenting the 2017 budget to the Garfield County commissioners Monday, Sandi Kister, who will return to the library board after a leave of absence to serve as interim executive director, said in simple terms that is “tough times” for the district.
The biggest cut is coming in wages and benefits, with a reduction from nearly $2.7 million in the 2016 approved budget to $1.8 million in 2017.
“Clearly people will be affected,” Kister said.
The district is looking at alternative sources of revenue, including renting space on the Rifle building’s roof to Verizon Wireless, but when asked by one of the commissioners, Kister conceded that layoffs are likely.
“We will do what we can to keep as many people employed and to keep the buildings open as much as we can. And we do not at this point have any anticipation of closing any of our buildings, although some of our hours may be cut,” Kister said.
The financial challenges made hiring an executive director more difficult, said Barker, who plans on retiring at the next meeting after roughly 10 years on the board. One applicant who was made an offer removed her name after requesting a salary that was above the advertised range, according to Barker. Others were less interested in the position given the challenges and difficult decisions ahead.
While others may have been turned off by the challenges ahead, Henning sees a silver lining and an opportunity to engage the communities on a deeper level.
“It is daunting, but I’m hopeful and excited that given this challenge it’s going to allow us to connect that much closer with our communities, since we have to find out what services are essential — what do our communities need. … We’re really going to have to focus on our essential services and figure out how do we deliver those services to our communities as efficiently as possible and as satisfactorily as possible.”
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