Library board votes not to rename library
The Great Falls Public Library board of trustees voted unanimously to retain the name as the Great Falls Public Library during their Dec. 28 meeting.
There was no public comment during the meeting.
Members of the board said it was a good decision and that while they wouldn’t rename the library for 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, they would create space in the library to honor her and refresh the space annually in an event celebrating her and/or “the achievements of other historically marginalized women or people of color.”
“This is an excellent decision, I think, when we look at the costs of changing the name. I don’t just mean the financial costs, the staff time, the loss of brand recognition, the divisiveness in the community,” said Susie McIntyre, library director.
Anne Bulger, a library board member, said that people who had known Jacobs contacted her about the proposed name change and that she would have hated the cost of renaming the library and would have prefered the funds to be spent on something else benefitting the library.
Whitney Olson, board chair, said she was pleased that the library staff was already working on plans for honoring Jacobs and also making efforts to increase diversity and inclusion at the library.
In December 2020, the library received a formal request to consider renaming the library for Jacobs, leading the board to develop a naming policy that was adopted in January. The board also considered naming the new Bookmobile for Jacobs as an alternative to renaming the library itself. The decision on the Bookmobile naming has been put on hold until the library naming request has been decided.
The board created the naming committee to gather community input on the renaming request and present their findings and recommendations to the board by December.
Jessica Crist, a library board member and committee chair, said in the November meeting that the group listened to people across the community and did an unscientific poll for people’s thoughts on the name change proposal and general feedback on the library. A total of 276 individuals responded to the survey at least in part, according to the committee’s report.
During the Nov. 23 meeting, Crist said that in the online survey there were more people expressing strong preferences to change the name than there were neutral or opposed, but that was reflective of the campaign among supporters for the name change.
The naming committee is recommending to “preserve the historic name of the Great Falls Public Library and create a space inside the facility to honor Alma Smith Jacobs by telling her story. “Refresh” that space annually in an event celebrating Alma’s achievements and/or the achievements of other historically marginalized women or people of color.”
Staff estimates that direct costs of a name change would be a minimum of $40,000 and staff time would be minimally 500 hours, although staff time is difficult to estimate, according to the report.
Olsen, library board chair, said that she was happy with the report and that with it, the board was “well positioned to think about it over the next month.”
The report gave them context and that even when the board makes a naming decision next month, there can be a continued discussion about inclusion at the library.
“We shouldn’t shy away from it,” she said in November.
The committee’s charge was to “develop a recommendation report for the Great Falls Public Library Board of Trustees regarding the proposed renaming of the Great Falls Public Library in honor of Alma Smith Jacobs; this will be accomplished by gathering input from the larger community through open meetings, small group conversations, online feedback, and any other methods developed by the committee.”
For more background on the naming request, see our previous coverage: