Library modifying operations as COVID-19 restrictions ease; new Bookmobile coming mid-April; roof project underway

The Great Falls Public Library is beginning to adjust their operations as COVID-19 restrictions lessen and cases numbers have stayed low.

Susie McIntyre, library director, said that the plan is to change from requiring to recommending masks around the end of May, once all employees have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

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Staff are not required to be vaccinated, she said, but they want to make sure all staff have the chance to before lifting the mask requirement at the library.

The library board adopted a mask requirement in July 2020, before then Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statewide mandate.

“We want to make sure all staff are protected because it is so difficult to help people with so many things and stay six feet away,” McIntyre said.

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Plans for loosening restrictions at the library are dependent on the COVID-19 situation in the community, McIntyre said, and could change.

The plan also includes expanding hours on April 19 since they’ll have more staff back and able to work with the public.

McIntyre said that the plan is to eliminate the vulnerable hours of 10-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and instead being open to all 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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Then they’ll start bringing back volunteers and once they’re back to full staffing, the library can go back to being open 50 hours per week, McIntyre said.

She said they’re looking at a few options for the schedule and gathering feedback on whether to be open longer on Tuesdays through Saturdays or resume being open a few hours on Mondays, but whether to do mornings or afternoons.

“One silver lining of COVID, is it’s given us a chance to reevaluate how we provide service and how we can serve the most people,” McIntyre said.

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The Montana Room has also reopening and is staffed by the Great Falls Genealogy Society from 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Masks are still required.

“We are just slowly going to be opening up, and hope the positive trajectory of less and less infections continuous,” McIntyre said.

The new Bookmobile will be arriving soon and will be operations in mid-April.

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The library foundation did a fundraising campaign to fund the $200,000 purchase, plus $50,000 for youth services, materials and programming, and met their fundraising goal

McIntyre said the campaign raised $101,000 through grants; $13,500 from business gifts and $135,000 from individuals.

“That’s just heartwarming to me,” that so much fo the support came from individual donors in the community that value library services, McIntyre said. “I think that just really speaks to the support of the library.”

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The new Bookmobile will feature an image of Alma Jacobs, who served as head librarian at the Great Falls Public Library and the state librarian, both historic firsts for a Black woman during her time.

The library board has been discussing for several months a request to rename the library for Jacobs and considered naming the Bookmobile for one of Great Falls’ significant figures, but that decision is on hold as the board establishes a committee to have a broader community discussion about the request.

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The library board chair can appoint members to a subcommittee and that group will be tasked with making a recommendation report to the full board, which will then take action.

The library is also inspecting the roof to determine if repairs are needed. The last time it was repaired/replaced was 1996, McIntyre said, so they’ve hired Nelson Architects to do a study and determine what needs to be done. She said they’re hoping it’s just in need of a new membrane, which will be a much lower cost.

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The library has $100,000 in the reserve fund for the roof project and the current design phase is being paid primarily by a $9,500 donation for capital improvements. The total design phase cost is $11,500, McIntyre said, and fuds were available in the donation account to cover remainder.

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The board has also updated its patron behavior policy to align with LR-130, a ballot initiative approved by voters regarding gun restrictions. The policy now only allows law enforcement or those with a valid concealed carry permit to have weapons in the library. Open carry is still prohibited at the library.