Great Falls library joining statewide shared catalog; considering eliminating late fines; added courtesy parking; considering major repairs

The Great Falls Public Library has been approved by the Montana State Library to join the Montana Shared Catalog, which is expected to save the library money and offer more materials.

“The Montana Shared Catalog is a cooperative project involving 177 libraries located in 99 Montana communities. Public, school, academic, medical and special libraries have pooled their resources together to purchase a robust library automation system. Members also enjoy the benefits of shared expertise and the ability to provide great service to library customers,” according to the Montana State Library.

Currently, GFPL has a standalone contract for its online catalog for $41,000.

The annual cost for GFPL to participate in the shared library is $27,000.

There will be some transition costs, but it’s a substantial cost savings, according to Susie McIntyre, library director.

The shared catalog typically has a joining fee and it was going to be $49,000, McIntyre said. Because the quote was so high, staff at Montana Shared Catalog is doing the content migration instead, which is a reduced cost of $24,000 and GFPL isn’t being charged that fee, she said.

The system will be housed on servers at the Montana State Library so the system won’t go down when it’s windy or the power goes out in Great Falls, she told City Commissioners earlier this month.

During the Feb. 25 library board meeting, McIntyre said the state library had waived the joining fee for GFPL, another cost savings.

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The goal is to be live on the shared catalog in September, McIntyre told the board Tuesday.

She said the library might join the Partners sharing group within the state library, which is a more intensive level of resource sharing and there may be some additional courier costs associated with that group, but wouldn’t take up all of the cost savings from switching to the shared catalog.

Joining the Partners, McIntyre told commissioners earlier this month, allows the group members to share books amongst each other without barriers and would close to triple the number of materials GFPL patrons could access.

Free parking spots at the library

The Friends of the Great Falls Public Library donated to purchase three courtesy spots in front of the library on 2nd Avenue North.

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The spaces give 30 minutes of free parking in those spaces.

The library has a parking lot that is paid parking with an old fashioned honor box, and half of the proceeds from that lot go back to the library. Regular metered parking is on 2nd Avenue North and 3rd Street North, though free parking is available on residential streets about a block away.

Eliminate fines

Library staff is looking strongly at eliminating fines for overdue books.

McIntyre said the library gets about $10,000 annually in late fees, or about 0.07 percent of their budget, “but we know that late fines are a barrier” for using the library.

GFPL currently charges 10 cents for most materials per day for materials not returned by the due date. A patron account with more than $5 in late fines/fees is blocked from checking out or renewing items.

McIntyre said staff did a lot of community outreach last summer and a third to half of the people they talked to said they had a library card, but couldn’t use it because of late fines.

Patrons still have to return materials or pay for replacements and could lose library privileges until items are returned or fees paid.

“For somebody like me, 10 cents a day doesn’t make much of a difference,” McIntyre told commissioners earlier in February. “But if you’re a mom in poverty and it’s bad weather and you owe $9 or $10 because your kids have a bunch of books out, then you might not use library again. If we’re going to meet our mission, we need to make sure we’re accessible to all local residents.”

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She said the library is also planning to host another fun run to payoff fines this year.

Library improvements

The Library Foundation has approved $30,000 to remodel the public meeting spaces in the basement, but that work likely won’t be started until the fall since there’s a lot of summer activity planned at the library.

Work to replace the library’s 51-year-old air handler in the basement is just about complete.

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In August, the City Commission approved a $315, 000 contract for the work with McKinstry Essention LLC and the project was identified through McKinstry’s 2017 energy performance audit performed at the request of the city.

McIntyre said staff is moving forward to get an engineer’s estimate on costs and scope of work to address basement flooding, including a leak around the storm drain pipe and the water rising through cracks and expansion joints in the basement concrete.

She said she’s hoping that step will cost less than $10,000 since the library had some funds leftover from another capital project that was completed under budget, but the construction will cost anywhere from $65,000 to $165,000.

During the Feb. 25 library board meeting, McIntyre said the fix will require trenching into the street and fixing what is at least a bent pipe and possible a main break in the middle of 2nd Avenue North.

“It’s a big deal,” she said.

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McIntyre said she’s hoping to get that project completed this summer so that staff doesn’t have to block water gushing into the basement with mops when it rains and to prevent further damage to the building.

Staff is also developing specifications to go out for bids for a new bookmobile and once they have a cost estimate, will come back to the board to discuss funding options and the foundation will assist with a capital campaign.