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Questions remain on whether Stutsman County Library should stay open

James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector requested a $60,000 increase to the library system’s 2023 budget at a Stutsman County Commission meeting in June.

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James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector talks about the importance of providing bookmobile services while standing inside the bookmobile.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
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JAMESTOWN – The James River Valley Library System Board of Directors has not made a decision on a June motion to close Stutsman County Library services to the general public on Dec. 31 but the question still remains on whether it should remain open.

Joan Morris, a Stutsman County commissioner on the library board, moved to end Stutsman County Library services for the public effective Dec. 31.

Morris said the Stutsman County Library should be closed to the public since the same services are offered 10 blocks away. James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector doesn't think the Stutsman County Library should close.

The county library has seen a total of 3,578 patrons through the first six months of the year, according to records from the library system. The county library saw 472 patrons in January and 434 in February before it saw an uptick in patrons in March, April, May and June with 663, 619, 620 and 770, respectively.

“That’s approximately 30 per day,” Rector said, referring to the patron numbers through May. “We were getting approximately 30 per day before the pandemic so we are really close to being back to our regular numbers, and then we just want to exceed those numbers.”

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Rector noted that the county library is actually seeing more people per hour since hours were reduced in September 2021.

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The James River Valley Library System Board of Directors has not made a decision on a motion made by Joan Morris, a Stutsman County commissioner who is an appointed member to the library board, to close Stutsman County Library services to the general public as of Dec. 31.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Morris said she was at the county library for 2 1/2 hours on Friday, July 8, and saw about four or five people total during the time she was there.

“We certainly can absorb that volume of people coming in at the Alfred Dickey Public Library,” she said.

Morris said county library patrons can go to Alfred Dickey Public Library. She said the county library is underutilized and she needs to respect what the city and county residents voted for in 2008.

In the 2008 general election, voters approved a measure to create a joint library board. The James River Valley Library System was established in 2009 when Alfred Dickey and Stutsman County libraries were legally combined after the vote in 2008. Seventy-five percent of voters in the city and 66% of voters in the county each passed a measure to create joint library services between the city of Jamestown and Stutsman County.

“You need to respect what the citizens have asked for,” Morris said.

The library board approved a reduction in hours for the county library in September 2021 after the Stutsman County Commission approved a $60,000 cut to the library system’s budget.

Morris said Rector wants to expand the hours at the county library.

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“I do not believe it is appropriate to pay for services that are duplicated,” she said.

The city of Jamestown provides 15 mills to the library system, while Stutsman County provides about 2.05 mills. Stutsman County provided 4 mills when the library system started providing joint library services, although the actual dollar amount never declined prior to the county’s budget cut in 2021.

With board approval, Rector requested a $60,000 increase to the library system’s 2023 budget at a Stutsman County Commission meeting in June, the amount reduced in 2021. Morris and library board member Gail Martin were opposed.

Rector previously said the $60,000 budget cut affected how much the library system received in state aid. He said the library system will lose about $20,000 in 2023.

Rector previously said Stutsman County is an estimated $38,200 in the hole for the services that are currently being provided and the amount is being covered by the city of Jamestown.

Morris said the amount Rector said the county should be covering includes an expanded headcount at the county library, more maintenance or keeping the Stutsman County Library open.

“What I don’t understand is why the county is being charged for something that in fact the citizens voted that they didn’t want to have, which is to have two libraries open,” she said

The Stutsman County Library was also renovated in 2020 and 2021. Rector said the renovations might not have been done if the library system knew there would be discussions on closing the county library. He said the renovations were made because it would take the library system many years to save enough money before it presented a bigger plan for a new or expanded facility.

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“That was the rationale to make the best use of the space we currently have,” he said.

Rector said many bookshelves in Alfred Dickey Public Library would need to be removed to fit everything from the Stutsman County Library in the building.

The Stutsman County Commission approved $60,000 for the library system to update the Stutsman County Library in September 2019. Morris was not on the county commission at that time.

The work included installing new carpet, building new shelves and painting. More space was also created in the library.

“I think we need to see what those renovations bring in terms of hopefully more patrons coming into this library before we make a decision to close it to the public,” Rector said. “Closing the library to the public is rather permanent because once it is closed, it is very difficult to reopen. I think it would be lost forever.”

He said the library system is short of space at Alfred Dickey and wanted to use the space in the county library to benefit the patrons.

“It just made sense as we were remodeling at Stutsman County Library, we said we could add a 'library of things' and give people unique reasons to come to this library,” he said.

The "library of things" is a collection of items that include kitchen appliances, sports equipment, puzzles, games and sewing and craft items, that are available for checkout. The library of things is housed in a separate room in Stutsman County Library.

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The library of things is housed at the Stutsman County Library. The library of things is a collection of items, which include kitchen appliances, sports equipment, puzzles, games and sewing and craft items, that are available for checkout.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Rector said the Friends of the James River Valley Library System raised $19,000 for the library of things, and the library system plans to spend the money in future years to add to its collection.

This year, library system circulation statistics on the patron usage of the library of things through May show 51 checkouts, 21 renewals and five in house, which means an item is checked out but used at the county library.

Rector said the library of things is only in its second year of operation and is just scratching the surface of what it could be in the future.

“It’s something as more and more people say, ‘Hey this is here, this is a service,’ more and more people are going to come in,” he said. “One thing we wanted to do before we set this up before we had our budget cut, we wanted to set various craft clubs, so that people would actually use the things here. Let’s say learning how to scrapbook or learning how to quilt. Then they would be able to check out items as well.”

The Stutsman County Library also has the seed library, which is a collection of seeds that are available for free to the public. The library system circulation statistics do not show the number of seeds that were taken by library patrons, but Rector said a “ton” of people come in during the early spring.

The seeds are housed in an old card catalog in the Stutsman County Library.

Morris has stated at previous library board meetings the Stutsman County Library does not need to be open to house the library of things or the seed library.

The county library also houses the bookmobile. He said the bookmobile serves a total of 58 elementary school classrooms in Jamestown.

During the school year, two employees spend a lot of time rotating books on the bookmobile. The two employees spend time filling bins that each have about 20 books for elementary teachers in Jamestown.

“The purpose is to just give the kids something to read when they are doing their schoolwork," Rector said. "Teachers also request if they are doing a shark week or something like that they will request shark books.”

The bookmobile also goes to rural schools in the county. Bookmobile routes to rural schools during the school year include Medina, Montpelier and Ypsilanti, Kensal and Woodworth, Pingree and Buchanan, Streeter and Medina, and Montpelier.

“The people in rural communities really depend on it a lot because school budgets are really limited,” he said.

Morris said she supports the bookmobile. If the county library closes, she said the bookmobile and materials can be stored at the facility.

“It’s not like Stutsman County wants to kick them out of there,” she said. “ … It’s just a matter of why it is open and why does he want to expand the hours at Stutsman County Library to be open.”

Morris added the library system rents space in a storage unit.

Rector estimated 75% of the materials in the Stutsman County Library are different from Alfred Dickey.

“Most of the materials in here are unique in our system, so when I came here one of the things I said was the people in Jamestown need to receive the solid benefit from the partnership between the city and the county just like the people in the county need to receive a solid benefit so I wanted to make sure that the county people were getting first-rate service, but then one of the things the people of Jamestown get is an expanded collection,” he said.

He said library system employees bring books and other items back and forth to each library daily.

The county library also provides programming for adults and children.

“We have kids that come over from school every day and we provide them with an activity,” Rector said. “Sometimes that activity takes place in the office with the library of things. It just depends on how many kids. Sometimes we are able to partner with the (NDSU) Extension office (Stutsman County) so sometimes we use the kitchen over there.”

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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