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Thief River Falls Library dispute stands in limbo

THIEF RIVER FALLS — A labor dispute at the Thief River Falls Public Library that began more than eight months ago and recently boiled over with the resignations of its librarian and two other employees appears to be in limbo.

"It's really kind of a mess," said Jerald Brown, a Thief River Falls councilman who also serves on both boards of the local library and the Northwest Regional Library System that oversees it. "I don't think it's settled yet, and it could possibly be a long way from settled, depending on how far the employees want to take it. ... There's always the Department of Labor."

Brown said he couldn't share details because it involves personnel, but in a letter this week to the Thief River Falls Times, former librarian Emily Savageau and former employees Alexandra E. Narverud and Kelsey Thibodeau stated in part: "Due to mismanagement and hostility from the regional system, the library is no longer an enjoyable place to work. Excessive demands, unjust changes and hostile attitudes from the regional level have poisoned the library and caused an impossible work environment.

"When these matters were brought before the Northwest Regional Board, nothing was done to assist in the resolution of the issues. We were informed that we needed to work it out among ourselves. Since that has proved impossible, most of the staff are leaving. No matter how much we love the library and its patrons, we cannot tolerate this hostile work environment any longer."

Brown confirmed Thursday that Savageau and Kristi Hanson, director of the Northwest Regional Library System, took part in mediation talks several months ago and said board members believed then the matter was resolved.

"That's one thing that's hard about it, because we're just an advisory board," he said of the local board. "You're dealing with people's livelihoods. It's not an easy situation."

Hanson answered the library phone Thursday but said she couldn't comment. She has filled in at the library since the resignations, Brown said.

The next step likely will be allowing her to tell "her side of the story" to the regional board, he said. Its next regular meeting is Jan. 18.

He added that he and at least some of the other local board members support Savageau.

"I think our librarian has support. You can see that by what happened. Normally, all people don't walk off the job if it's just one person's (dispute)," he said. "I've received a lot of calls from people in our community. It's affected a lot of people."

Meanwhile, others voiced their support for Hanson on Thursday. A statement from Warren Librarian Dawn Korynta and NRLS business office employees Kerri Costello and Pauline Helgeland said: "We want to express our support for the administration and the system as a whole. We enjoy working for the library and are looking forward to a productive 2018."

Grygla Librarian Kari Sundberg said: "I have had nothing but support from Kristi. ... Any request I make, she listens openly and does what she can to make it a reality for our little library and patrons. ... Not everyone shares the same goals, passion or personality, so issues are bound to arise. It's how we deal with them that determines the outcome."