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Library director was 'blindsided' by not being notified about meeting

A Stutsman County commissioner, who is an appointed member of the James River Valley Library System Board of Directors, apologized for not notifying others that she would present information about the Stutsman County Library at the Stutsman County Commission's special meeting on Aug. 5.

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JAMESTOWN – James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector said he was “blindsided” and “surprised” that there was no communication between him and a Stutsman County Commissioner before the commissioner presented information against the library system’s budget request.

Robert Hoekstra, a member of the James River Valley Library System Board of Directors, was not present at the meeting Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Joan Morris, a county commissioner who is an appointed member of the library board, presented information at the Stutsman County Commission’s special meeting Aug. 5 that included how many visitors the Stutsman County Library had over five days sometime in July. Three members of the general public also spoke at the county commission’s special meeting to advocate the commission not increase the library system’s budget.

At the special meeting, the county commission denied the library system’s request for a $60,000 increase to its budget, which would have restored the amount cut last year. Morris also moved to encourage the library board to close the Stutsman County Library to visitors, leaving Alfred Dickey Public LIbrary open to the public, but no action was taken because the issue was not on the county commission’s agenda.

Nobody on the library board was notified that Morris would present information about the Stutsman County Library at the special meeting. Rector said he was notified about the special meeting about one hour and 15 minutes before the meeting.

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The library board held a retreat the day before the county commission’s special meeting on Aug. 4, but Morris did not notify anyone she would present information about the county library during the special meeting.

Rector said what happened at the county commission meeting was “very organized and planned.” He said the county commission has the right to deny the library system’s request for an increase to its budget.

“It’s not really about the money,” he said. “It’s about the personal relationships and how we work together as a board and also how we work with the county commission because Joan is our representative on the commission so we are supposed to be able to talk to her and get the status of where the commission is headed and how we can better communicate with them. Ideally Joan would be able to give us advice to speak for the library and the commission once an issue comes up.”

Rector said Morris made some statements that were incorrect. He said she has a “very narrow” definition of a patron.

He also said Morris has the right to oppose the library system’s budget request.

“But at the same time, who can advise us on the commission,” he said. “Who can be that point of contact who is at least neutral?”

Morris apologized for what happened. She said she made some assumptions that were incorrect about others being informed about the county commission’s special meeting.

“I should have said something at the retreat,” she said.

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She said a listserv is done by Stutsman County officials to make sure that everyone is informed about meetings on a timely basis.

“I made the assumption as other commissioners do that people are informed on a timely basis,” she said.

She said the library board members were getting along very well at the retreat and looking at the future of the whole library system.

“It was exciting. It was not bringing up any of the old baggage,” she said. “It was talking about what we wanted to do in the future.”

She said she ruined the day that the library board had at the retreat.

“We went back to talking about this whole thing about the funding and … talking about the Stutsman County Library,” she said. “You just get to the point where you agree to disagree on it.”

Morris said she and Rector agreed that she will notify him about every occasion that there is a special meeting or anything concerning the library.

In other business, the library board approved 5-1 to add a statement about respecting patrons’ confidentiality and privacy about their use of the library and its services to the board expectations and conduct agreement. Morris was opposed.

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Rector said it crosses an ethical line for library board members to monitor other people. He said the library is used for many reasons but there is an expectation of reasonable privacy for a patron.

Mary Soucie, state librarian at the North Dakota State Library, said a patron is any person who uses library resources, which include e-collections, online resources, staff, programs and the building.

She cited North Dakota Century Code 40-38-12 and said the library staff isn’t allowed to talk about patrons and the specific items they check out or their requests unless they are subpoenaed.

“I think it goes to the patron view of the library,” she said. “Someone may be going through a divorce, they may be in an abusive relationship, they may have a medical situation. … There is an expectation by the public that we are going to protect that information and not share it.”

Library board member Gail Martin said the patron numbers and cost of operating the Stutsman County Library needed to be looked at. She said her and Morris were trying to substantiate a reason to have two libraries operating in a city of about 15,000 people.

Related Topics: JAMESTOWNSTUTSMAN COUNTY
Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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