DeFrates column: Library leadership concerns need to be aired openly
Dear Readers who reside in Garfield County: It is time to stop using our inside voices when discussing Library District leadership.
The situation is dire enough that four separate librarians have reached out to me over the past few months (long before Post Independent reporter John Stroud’s recent article) to ask for help in bringing awareness to it. All four were from different branches, different pay grades and almost totally unknown to each other, but these warm-hearted, book-loving purveyors of wisdom all told me the same thing: If the community does not get involved, nothing will change, and if nothing changes, our libraries will pay a steep price.
Let us review the facts.
According to the recent news article as well as a current board of trustees memo, there are currently 25 vacancies in the district, including three of the six branch managers positions. Two branch managers left within the last month; four total have left since January, with one replacement.
Multiple other essential positions remain empty, including the HR manager, collections manager, education and development coordinator and the technology and innovation manager. Twenty-three employees have left the district since the beginning of the year.
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Stroud’s article also contained several compelling personal perspectives on the director’s lack of people skills from those few who were willing to go on record. There is more to say about that, but I am not the one to say it.
At a recent Coffee with the Director event, Thursday, July 29, which I and four other library patrons attended, the director was quick to point out that similar organizations throughout the state are also having trouble hiring new staff. The problems are well documented — housing, cost of living, mudslides, COVID-19, etc.
However, while we are all sympathetic to the difficulties of bringing in new employees, to lose nearly a third of an organization’s existing staff in a matter of eight months is a completely different problem. When pressed on the issue, the director refused to acknowledge any other reason for this exodus besides the pay. He returned again and again to reference an “ongoing classification and compensation study.” Quite common among public entities, these studies help determine how to adjust pay scale and job descriptions based on comparison with other companies of similar industry and location.
This particular study, however, began on Dec. 3, 2020, when the board of trustees hired the consulting firm Koff and Associates. Over the last nine months, the Library District has paid them at least $34,611 and has received, as of last Thursday, no answers.
If we pretend that pay is indeed the only variable within his control to attract and retain qualified staff, then we must examine the newly minted “Neighborhood Libraries Manager” position. Boasting a salary range of $52,000 to $66,000, the position’s duties include “supervising and supporting the branch managers.” Wedged in the district’s organizational structure between the assistant director and the branch managers, this never-before-seen role provides the three remaining branch managers with exactly what they were missing most — another supervisor.
So, when faced with a need to pay existing employees more, the director’s answer has been to redirect close to $90,000 away from salaries in the form of a never-ending consulting bill and a more top-heavy management structure.
It is at this point that I would like to address the library board.
The compensation and classification is not the only other busywork dressed up as progress. Take, for example, the “ongoing” issue with phones and communication between libraries throughout the district. Easily observable day to day within the buildings and confirmed by all of my sources, it has been a long time since the phones worked every day of the week.
Yet, instead of fixing the phones first, the current director has chosen to pursue a “telephones/communications project,” which is first referenced in the February board memo. The director explained, rightly, that perhaps upgrading to a new communication paradigm would engage a new audience. Great idea, but the study is “ongoing,” and the phones are unfixed at least seven months later.
New strategic plan? Much discussed, little decided. Longer hours? Soon, maybe, once the gaping hole in personnel is addressed.
We would all love to know what the board is doing to provide accountability for this director, but to find out we would all need to be in Parachute at 2 p.m. this Thursday, Aug. 5, for the board meeting. It will not be streamed on the internet.
Really? I understand the desire to get back to being face-to-face, but in the technology-rich environment of the library, the meetings cannot become a hybrid in-person/streaming model? At the going rate for meandering consultation projects, the board is welcome to contract out my 8-year-old son to learn how to do this.
In all seriousness, our libraries need us. Speak up. There is a good possibility that our current library director once made a great librarian.
There is also a good possibility that our current board of trustees needs to take a page out of some of the books on their shelves and grow a spine.
Please reach out to board at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions and concerns today.
Lindsay DeFrates is a Glenwood Springs resident and former regular columnist for the Post Independent.
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