East Grand Forks library officials hope city council OKs replacement librarian

East Grand Forks City Council members agreed in May not to fill an open librarian job at the city library. Officials on the library board hope council members will reconsider as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be receding.

East Grand Forks Campbell Library resumed front-door, pick-up service on Tuesday, May 19.

Officials at East Grand Forks' Campbell Library hope to fill a librarian job that city leaders decided to keep vacant at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the city’s library board hope to replace a public services librarian who quit last spring. Charlotte Helgeson, the library’s director, presented to city council members on Tuesday, March 9 a list of library services that are going unfulfilled while the position remains empty, including tutoring, test proctoring, and organizing the library’s small army of volunteers.

The library is open about 25 hours each week, and has another 19 hours during which residents can schedule an appointment to visit and pick up books at the front door without directly interacting with staff. Helgeson said the library, which was open seven days a week before the pandemic, could be open more if the position were filled.

“Part of the marketing is definitely gone. We tried to keep in contact with volunteers but we didn’t do a very good job of that because that was something that was part of what (that librarian) was doing,” Helgeson said. “Any kind of programming that we had hoped to do online was limited because that person also had to help with acquisitions and answering phones, and that’s a huge part of it: having enough people working so we can open the door.”

East Grand Forks City Council members informally decided in May not to allow the library to solicit applications for the job. The position calls for someone with a master’s degree and some city officials worried about its cost-to-benefit ratio, especially when the library was mostly closed in an effort to slow the virus’ spread. Now, as it begins to open up, the lack of manpower has become more of a problem, library leaders said.


“There are times of the week in which the staffing level isn’t at a point where they can be open more,” Ryan Moe, the library board’s president, told the Herald. “Could the library be open more right now if this position was filled? Probably. ... Is it as widespread as far as programming and the such right now? Probably not. But as things get back to normal, as that goes on, in every case, it’s going to be a significant difference in how the library will present a lot of offerings to the patrons.”

Council member Dale Helms, who’s the liaison between the library board and the council, was one of two council members who voted to advertise the position in May. He worried that the library services administered by whoever holds the now-open job might go away permanently if it isn’t filled.

“We just need to have this position in order to man this library and not have to cut any of these programs out,” Helms said Thursday, noting that the city’s budget already allocates money for the job. “It’s not like we’re looking to spend any more money.”

The library has three full-time employees and six part-time employees. Filling the empty job would bring the number of full-timers to four. Whoever holds that position would make between $62,000 and $81,000 each year, plus benefits.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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