Library budgets for ‘massive’ tech overhaul

February 22, 2019

Teton County Library is asking for a significant budget decrease as it reduces staff costs, but it still plans to finance a “massive upgrade of our technology” that officials say is long overdue.

The Library Board approved the roughly $3.7 million request for fiscal year 2020 on Thursday. In her first meeting with the board, just over a week into the job, new Director Dawn Jenkin called for a one-time overhaul of everything from outdated computers to self-check systems and software.

“There’s a lot that needs to be fixed here,” she said.

Despite directing over a hundred thousand dollars toward the projects (the exact amount is undetermined), the library’s overall budget request is down nearly $300,000, or 7.5 percent, from last year. The drop is due largely to efforts to rein in personnel expenses and align them with the national average.

As it stands, the library spends about 78 percent of its budget on personnel and just 18 percent on operations, which includes technology and collections. A 2018 survey from the Library Journal, a trade publication, shows the standard for other libraries is 72 percent for personnel and 24 for operations. The new budget matches those figures.

The reduction in staff costs comes from the library’s decision not to refill several vacant positions in its information technology department, which has essentially been outsourced to the Teton County IT team, as well as some public services and programming positions.

Some of the library’s savings from those open positions has already been redirected to technology.

“We’ve got six pallets of equipment that just came in today,” Assistant Director Isabel Zumel said Thursday.

Besides the initial massive upgrade, Jenkin called for a multiyear capital improvement plan to regularly replace technological infrastructure over the years. This is how most libraries operate, she said, and she wants to establish the practice in Teton County.

“Then we can predict what [upgrades are] going to cost,” she said, “and put it into a cycle so there’s no surprises.”

In explaining her budget adjustments, Jenkin stressed that she wanted to do it in “a very direct and open way, which is how I roll.” During her interview process in December, she emphasized her commitment to open communication as she prepared to take the helm of an organization fraught with high turnover and low morale.

Jenkin said library administrators would solicit input from the staff and public on the library’s capital improvement plans. She also noted that with technology upgrades squared away, she could devote more time to “issues which so sorely need attention.”

“If we know that we’ve got that on track for this year, that helps me to be able to focus on our internal dynamic,” she said. “I’m not going to be running around chasing after broken printers.”

Another of Jenkin’s top initiatives for the budget, she said, is to expand the library’s access to electronic resources for people who can’t easily come to the physical building, while also meeting the needs of those who prefer print materials.

The Library Board unanimously supported the idea of expanding technology, especially considering the overall budget request is still lower than last year.

“I don’t want to spend money to just spend money,” Chairwoman Carol Peck said, “but if we have the bandwidth to implement some of these technologies, that’s the way I would lean.”

The proposal will now go to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners for approval.