By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Bristling at a recent newspaper column that suggested local agencies form a partnership and move the Del Norte County Public Library from its downtown spot, library district board members drafted a rebuttal letter during a special meeting on Monday.
Del Norte Unified School District board member Bob Berkowitz's column last week called for placing the Library in the Educational Resource Center at Harding Street, with local organizations running it.
School district Superintendent Jan Moorehouse noted informal talks about a partnership. The district's board, though, has not reviewed the possibility.
"We're not gonna go out of business just because Berkowitz says we are," Library Board of Trustees President Dennis Sutton. "It's not as bad as it looks."
A draft of the response letter spoke of Berkowitz's "gloom and doom outlook."
"I certainly hope it rests peoples' fears that the library is closing," board trustee Linda Koreski said.
The library continues operating within its budget and workers continue seeking grants, board members agreed. The downtown location will keep its hours, now set at 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Board trustees boasted of other improvements. Literacy efforts have reached more area Hispanic residents. A recent partnership with local agencies aims to revive the Wonderbus program and the library plans more public events and fundraisers.
More volunteers have signed on than the facility has ever seen, and vacant staff positions have attracted dozens of applications. A new cataloging system has added more than 800 new books to shelves and the public can soon use six new laptops acquired through a Gates Foundation grant.
But community members remain concerned.
"We have a situation where our ship is sinking and we've got to do some damage control," said Smith River resident Robert Lynch, one of the volunteers who runs the library's Smith River branch.
Lynch noted volunteers' low morale after recent failed measures that would have provided the library with stable revenue of about $400,000 in annual sales tax money.
Director Patty Hector's resignation, along with recent staff and volunteer resignations and a firing, have further worried the community, Lynch said.
"What can be done to turn it around?" Lynch asked, urging library leaders to seek state legislative aid, along with grants for short-term solutions. "This ship is sinking fast."
Smith River branch volunteer Linda Yuvan called the staff changes upsetting, as longtime, experienced workers and volunteers leave.
Library trustees met in a closed-door session after public comments to finish drafting the letter that they planned to send to The Daily Triplicate.
Acting Director Kelley Nolan declined to comment on any firings, but said that two part-time staff members resigned with two weeks' notice and left on good terms. Two volunteers also left.
District members would not give reasons for workers' resignations or firing.
Board members cited the personnel category in California's Ralph M. Brown Act that allows for closed-door meetings. The act aims to ensure open government meetings and public participation. The rule allows closed-door meetings on personnel issues, but does not require them.