The Saratoga Sun -

Library director hired

Mickelson hired as director, ‘no drama’ era pledged by new board members

 


If attendance at a July 18 meeting of the Carbon County Library Board (CCLSB) was any indication, the contention and controversy that swirled around the board in recent months may be waning. With an audience of less than five not counting media and guest presenters the CCLSB hired Jacob Mickelsen to serve as new Executive Director of Carbon County Libraries.

Mickelsen is inheriting a challenging set of circumstances following the abrupt resignation of his predecessor, Bobbie Morgan, and the departure of at least nine other employees since early spring. The former CCLSB chair, Joanne Whitson, also resigned in the days following a tumultuous July 6 meeting in which the CCLSB asked Morgan to turn in her keys prior to her effective quit date.

The July 18 meeting at which Mickelsen was hired took place in Hanna– friendlier territory for current CCLSB chair Joyce Menke than the last meeting, which took place in Rawlins. During a months-long internal power struggle on the board, Morgan and Whitson accused commissioners of giving short-shrift to Rawlins staff, while CCLSB member Tom Callison and Menke said keeping rural branch locations operational was critical, and that Rawlins could withstand reductions. These different approaches to triaging a massive budget cut inflicted on the eight library system proved incompatible, and with Morgan, Whitson and many disgruntled staff exiting stage left, the CCLSB appears to have achieved a kind of unity through attrition.

Cindy Bloomquist and Ellie Behrmann joined Menke and Callison on the board July 6, and the four current members of the board and Mickelsen seemed anxious to move past old acrimonies and dissension. Outside of the many pieces of housekeeping the board attended to July 18, the meeting was an opportunity for CCLSB members to reintroduce themselves to the communities they serve. On multiple occasions Bloomquist and Menke promised a new, “no-drama” era was dawning.

Sharply dressed in suit and tie for his interview, which was conducted over about 40 minutes in executive session, Mickelsen likewise appeared eager to turn the page. Though he offered few public remarks about his plans for the directorship, Mickelsen did promise more autonomy and flexibility for branch libraries.

In the past, Mickelsen served for about half a year as a branch manager for the Saratoga Library, and he also worked in the Fremont County Library System in a support capacity. Mickelsen lacks a Masters of Library Science (MLS), and several Rawlins staff who walked off during the budgetary chaos of the past months expressed displeasure with the apparent downgrade in experience. Morgan possessed an MLS, in addition to extensive experience running large library systems.

According to statistics compiled by the Wyoming State Library, 15 of the state’s 23 county library systems have a full-time MLS on staff.. All eight Wyoming library systems serving 25,000 patrons or more have a staffer with an MLS, six of eight county systems serving 10,000 to 24,999 patrons have an MLS on payroll, while only one of the seven library systems with populations under 10,000 have an MLS.

Wyoming State Librarian Jamie Markus also came to the meeting from Cheyenne to give the CCLSB guidance on their roles since the board has two new members, a new chair and vice chair to boot. Markus additionally told the board about an MLS-posessing candidate who expressed interest in serving as executive director in an interim capacity for 12 months. The CCLSB opted to hire Mickelsen rather than contact the interim candidate. By Markus’ count, there has been close to a 40 percent turnover in executive directors for library systems statewide. He said that the majority of turnover in the last 18 months is due to a wave of retirement by directors.

Markus said the Carbon County cuts would likely stand as the most precipitous in the state, and informed the board of the ways in which Cheyenne may be able to alleviate the situation. Markus said the state was eager to help provide training for new staff who will be replacing departed employees. Markus also told the CCLSB about some resources board members could use to educate themselves about their role as a board, the role of the Carbon County Library Foundation (CCLF–a 501(c)(3)–which supports the library), the role of Carbon County Commissioners and the role of the executive director.

Throughout his presentation, Markus stressed that the state librarian was meant to be a neutral resource who helped library employees and county officials work together to deliver services to patrons.

In addition to hiring Mickelsen, the board also started resolving some of the financial muddle which has hovered over the CCLSB since the budget crisis began and the library book keeper quit. The CCLSB passed a budget and authorized the payment of outstanding debts after struggling with specifics for weeks. Even so, some blanks remain; when asked how the CCLSB was planning to pay for employee insurance coverage, Menke said “we’re in the process of working that out.”

A plan to use the CCLF as a “pass through” charity to collect donations to pay for library employee salaries also fell through. After talking with Markus and doing some research, the CCLF voted against acting as a pass through agency, saying that the role of the CCLF was to provide material support for the library. Operational expenses, CCLF members said, were the responsibility of Carbon County, and they worried that acting as a pass-through would muddy this line.

There is also lingering resentment among employees who quit around the time of Morgan’s departure. Comments on the library facebook page are being filtered after critical posts appeared. Former employee Kendra Sisneros made a change.org petition asking Carbon County Commissioners to remove Menke and Callison from their board positions. . Sisneros cites a lack of public trust and “harassment” from these members as reasons to remove the pair. As of press time, the petition had 69 signatures, though the pace has dropped off significantly since it was started over a week ago.

Increasingly, this looks like the rear-guard action of a defeated faction. Whether changes to come bring a more efficient library system with fresh ideas and approaches, or lower quality of service and less access during tough times remains to be seen.

This article has been updated to correct three inaccuracies that were printed in the original version. Max Miller apologizes for the errors.

15 of 23 Wyoming county library systems have an MLS on staff - not 13 of 23, as was originally stated.

State Librarian Jamie Markus expressed that the nearly 40 percent turnover in Wyoming library executive directors over the past 18 months was due to a wave of retirements. He did not say he could not explain the period of high turnover, as was originally stated.

New executive director Jacob Mickelsen worked in a support capacity for Fremont County Libraries, not Albany County Libraries, as was originally stated.

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