Millages, Critical Thinking, and Rainbow Flags
Residents voice opinions while librarians seek more certain future for Hancock Library
By Juxta Sprague
With more than ten minutes until the meeting’s start, chairs are scarce as parents, teachers, librarians, and other community members make their way into a small room within the Hancock Middle School. One person hands out buttons that read "Support the Hancock Library". The Hancock Public Schools Board of Education calls their Aug. 22 meeting to order with nearly a dozen still standing, overflowing into the adjacent kitchenette and hallway.
Katrina Linde-Moriarty, the new director of the Portage Lake District Library (PLDL), gave a presentation to the board to help illustrate the history, achievements, and possible future of collaboration between PLDL and the Hancock Public Schools.
In 2018, a contract was established to have PLDL manage the Hancock School Public Library (HSPL) which had until then been run at limited hours and staffed by volunteers. Although still new to their role, Linde-Moriarty was excited by the progress that had been made during the initial four years of the contract.
548 new library cards were created, checkouts increased by 166% (average of 10.5 checkouts per user for 21/22 year), 5513 new items were added, and library visits increased by an impressive 392%.
HSPL also succeeded in applying for grants and soliciting donations to help fund the services, materials, and improvements of the library. A grant of $212,000 was recently awarded jointly to HSPL and the school district through the Michigan Department of Education literacy program, substantially much more than the ~$29,000 initially requested. Linde-Moriarty has indicated that the grant will fund the program and cover much-needed improvements for the library including new programming, shelves, furnishings, books, maker-space equipment, and a complete overhaul of three outdated non-fiction sections of the library.
Linde-Moriarty offered three possible next steps for the relationship between Hancock School Public Library and the PLDL.
Extend the current contract. Linde-Moriarty noted that without increasing the financial commitment the level of service would decrease over time.
Continue the contract but require the municipalities to levy a millage to support the library.
Pursue a PLDL millage for all the municipalities of Hancock Public Schools to match the 1.96 mils of Houghton and Portage Township making HSPL a "branch" of PLDL allowing library cardholders to check out materials at both locations.
Linde-Moriarty concluded by requesting the current contract be extended one fiscal year with a millage increase from 0.3 (~$73,000) to 0.4 (~$84,000) in order to offset staffing costs and to reinstate the Hancock School Public Library Advisory Committee to improve transparency and ease of communication between the Board of Education and PLDL.
Handouts and slides for the HSPL contract renewal are available on the PLDL website.
Nearly a dozen individuals made visitor comments to the board.
Amanda Lutey, a resident of Hancock, thanked the Board for supporting the library and making it "accessible to all".
Faith Morrison, a recently retired Professor from Michigan Tech, delivered a statement on the importance of libraries in teaching critical thinking and problem-solving.
"A good library should have something to offend everyone," Morrison read.
A parent said that the "Library had stuff that was not appropriate for my son," and that “parents don't like material being shoved in the face of their kids".
The individual declined to provide further comment or be identified for this story.
Allyson Jabusch, a retiree from Michigan Tech, said that "The library contract saved the day" and encouraged the Board of Education to extend the contract. Jabusch also encouraged community members to volunteer at schools and libraries.
Another individual responded to Jabusch saying "We all have different views on the law".
The individual did not clearly identify themself to the board.
Chris Heikkinen, a former member of the Hancock Board of Education, applauded the work of the current school board. In reference to a pride month library display at HPSL, he stated “This material doesn’t have a place in a display in a public library”.
"Parents are the ultimate authority [and they are] trying to stop the kidnapping of their kids' innocence,” Heikkinen said.
He concluded his comment by asking the Board how they will build and maintain institutional trust.
“Libraries are one of the last places somebody can go without having to pay money,” William Keith, an associate professor at Michigan Tech, said. “A place where everyone is welcome.”
Keith also voiced support for the library Advisory Committee proposed by Linde-Moriarty to ensure transparency.
Stephanie Flint, a resident of Hancock, shared her experience of "rediscovering the [Hancock] library".
She stated that "InterLibrary loan has been great" and that the library has offered "good materials for people on a budget".
Flint expressed hope that the contract would be renewed.
Dillon Geshel, former director of the PLDL, noted that most public school libraries have disappeared in Michigan due to state legislation and that HSPL is one of the few remaining. Geshel encouraged the Board to "think about why [HSPL] has been as successful as it has [during the four-year contract]."
Editor’s Note: Geshel is a member of Copper Beacon’s Board of Directors.
Steve Raasio, a parent of seven former Hancock students, said that "political stuff [shouldn't be] involved anywhere" in reference to rainbow flags being displayed at the library. He stated that he'd prefer to see the library "fall on its face" than promote "political ideologies".
Raasio noted that he does not personally use the library though some of his adult children do.
Susan Autio, the Circulation Manager at PLDL, said that she oversees the committees that curate library content, and values diversity in the selection there.
"I buy books I find personally offensive," Autio said.
Autio, in reference to the HSPL, stated that "kids are endlessly checking out books" and that she "would be so sad to see this end".
The PLDL and HSPL contract has already been extended twice and is again entering the final months. The board did not vote on its future at this meeting. Their next regular meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19 at 5 p.m.
Second-grade teachers Genevieve Nordmark and Becky Garnell also delivered a presentation to the Board of Education on the importance of computer science and STEM education for student careers, future wages and college attendance. They emphasized that many valuable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication are taught through computers, robots, 3D printers, and other technologies in a way that is exciting, fun, and accessible to students.
Ben Larson also gave a brief oral presentation to the board to encourage fundraising through alumni outreach. Larson made several suggestions such as finding naming opportunities and an "Alumni Distinction Honor Group" to get alumni of the Hancock Public Schools excited about making donations or gifts to help fund improvements to the school district.