Board delays decision on renaming library
The Great Falls Public Library board voted to postpone a decision on the request to rename the library for Alma Jacobs, who served as head librarian at the GFPL and the state librarian, both historic firsts for a Black woman during her time.
The request was initiated by Ken Robison, a local historian, in December and led the board to adopting a naming policy during their January meeting.
Board members said they felt the decision to rename the library was a broader community discussion and while a handful of members of the public had offered comment in support or opposition, there should be a more concerted effort to educate the public about the request and Jacobs herself.
So in postponing the naming decision, the board also voted to create a committee to consider the request and gather public input, though several board members and staff indicated a preference to leave the name as it.
Robison said that, “I do think it’s a time to act, it’s’ a time to give the community another visible hero and what better place than in the house that Alma built.”
He said he understands there’s logistical and financial implications to a name change and was willing to assist in fundraising.
“She was a trailblazer,” Robison said, and achieved at time it was difficult for Blacks and women.
Bill Tacke of the Great Falls Public Library Foundation said their board was concerned about the cost and that it was clear at the time Jacobs’ was in Great Falls that she didn’t feel the library should be named for a single person.
He suggested that there may be other ways to better educate the public and honor Jacobs’ legacy, such as creating something along the lines of the “I like Charlie Russell” essay contest by the C.M. Russell Museum.
Susie McIntyre, library director, said that it’s “in awe that I sit in the director’s office in the house that Alma built,” and she keeps a photo of Jacobs on her desk, but “changing the name of a library is expensive and complicate and it needs to be mission driven and community focused.”
She said she respects the effort of those making the request, but that the decision needs broader community engagement. There are other aspects of the library that honor Jacobs, such as the mural on the front of the building and the plaza named for her.
In her report to the board, McIntyre estimated that the name change would cost at least $48,600 in direct costs to the library, plus potential public confusion.
“We are underfunded and understaffed,” McIntyre said. “I believe very strongly that Alma is a hero,” but that the board needs to think about what they’re trying to accomplish and that in her opinion, the best way to honor Jacobs is to ensure that the library provides services to the community, particularly minority groups, and is a welcoming place.
“In my opinion, we should not attempt to honor Alma by changing the name of the library that she built and chose to name the Great Falls Public Library,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said that the conversation about Jacobs and race in Great Falls was an important, though difficult, conversation to have and the naming request helped spur that discussion.
Sandy Rice worked at the library during Jacobs’ time and submitted a letter to the board opposing the name change.
The first two libraries in Great Falls were named for people and foundations, Rice wrote, “I don’t think Mrs. Jacobs wanted the new library to be named after anyone; she wanted the patrons to know that this was their library.”
McIntyre suggested that an alternative could be naming the new Bookmobile in honor of Jacobs. The vendor is currently finalizing the graphics for the new vehicle that’s expected to be delivered this spring. Because naming the Bookmobile wasn’t on the agenda, the board is planning to meet at 4:30 p.m. March 2 to make that decision.
Jessica Crist, library board member, made the motion delaying the decision and establishing the committee and said,”we haven’t had enough community implications.”