By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
The Grayson branch of the Carter County Public Library has made plans to reopen after the location was temporarily closed last week. That closure, prompted by an employee who felt unsafe, led to an emergency meeting of the Library Board on Friday to determine the best course of action.
Library director Matt Parsons said the employee had an “uncomfortable experience” where she was approached by a patron who made “inappropriate comments” and advances and – not seeing anyone else in the building with them at the moment – pointedly asked if she worked alone. Parsons said the employee contacted him about the incident and he told her if she did not feel safe he would not require her to come into work until the situation was resolved. He also instructed her to put up a social media post advising the public of the temporary closure.
The wording of that post, however, stating that the library would be closed “indefinitely” caused some consternation among the public.
Parsons conceded that the wording was unfortunate. He said in hindsight he would have probably advised wording such as “temporarily” or “until further notice” instead of “indefinitely,” and said he understood how that might worry some patrons who thought the branch might not reopen anytime soon. But, he said, his first priority was on keeping his employees safe and comfortable.
He also added that the situation arose as the Grayson Police Department was advising businesses to be aware of an individual who had been approaching women who appeared to be working alone and asking them the same question.
Though he said the police had arrested a suspect in some of those cases, it was not the same individual identified by his employee.
The agreement reached between Parsons and the library board will have him temporarily setting aside some of his duties as director to work the front desk at the Grayson branch.
Neither he nor the board sees this as a tenable long-term solution, but at present they have no clear plans for what is to follow.
Parsons, at one point, made the suggestion of dissolving his position, giving the librarians at each branch a raise, and dividing his duties between them, then using the rest of his current salary to hire more part-time employees to float between branches as needed. This would allow them to make sure employees didn’t have to work alone while also assuring the most crucial duties he fills aren’t left undone.
The board, however, wasn’t ready to follow Parsons’ suggestion on that front just yet. Until they do make a decision Parsons will be splitting his time between the Grayson branch, which does not have a private office, the Olive Hill branch, which does, and his home office. Because of the temporary changes to his duties, the board said, they expect he will not be as active with attending fiscal court or city council meetings to advocate for the library as he has done regularly since taking on the position.
He will also have to suspend or reschedule any work that requires the use of a private office for online meetings or phone calls until his duties return to normal, or during hours when he is at home or the Olive Hill branch.
While it is not the ideal solution, board member Mindy Woods-Click noted, this is an emergency situation and requires some action until a long-term solution can be reached.
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