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Breaking up is hard to do: Dispute about library resources arises amid library split


IDAHO FALLS – The contention around ending the service agreement between the Bonneville County Library District and the Idaho Falls Public Library is escalating, with claims that one rural library is being left as an “empty shell.”

During a meeting on May 3, the Bonneville County Library District voted 3-2 in favor of not renewing its contract with the Idaho Falls Public Library. The $1.1 million annual fee the county was paying the city for access to library resources will now go toward a new library in Ammon. The exact location will be announced once lease negotiations are complete.

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As the district moves forward with its plans, Michelle Tolman, who was recently appointed as Ammon’s new library director, tells that the Idaho Falls Public Library started removing books from the Iona Public Library several weeks ago and “intends to leave Iona as an empty shell.”

Iona statue
Statues at the Iona Community Center, which includes the town’s library. | file photo

“We’re trying to negotiate terms of separation,” Tolman tells “During a meeting, our board of trustees specifically asked (the IFPL board), ‘What you’re telling me is that you’re going to leave Iona an empty shell?’ And they affirmed yes publicly.”

A library in Swan Valley and Iona are included in the service agreement. made multiple attempts to contact an Iona Library employee.

Tolman says a group of volunteers has invested a lot of time providing shelving and other resources for the Iona library over the years, and the service agreement requires the county to provide additional books and resources and service them.

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In regards to the removal of books, she references an item in the contract with the Iona Library, which says “In no event, shall the book collection be of lesser value or condition as a whole at the time of termination as it was when it was established on Sept. 1, 2006.”

iona library pic
The inside of the Iona Public Library | Jessica Stucki, April 2022 Google photo

But IFPL Director Robert Wright disagrees with Tolman’s interpretation of the agreement. Under the terms of the service contract, he says the Idaho Falls Public Library operates all three libraries.

“The contract doesn’t say anything about the number of books in any library or the number of shelves. It simply states that Idaho Falls is required to provide the same level of service,” Wright says.

He says the agreement was always about service, not ownership, and the library is simply reclaiming its property in conjunction with the agreement’s termination.

“They make the case that they’ve paid millions of dollars, but that’s like saying, ‘I’ve gone to the movie theater for 40 years, and I’ve paid my ticket. I should own everything in the movie theater.’ No, you pay for the price of the service, and that’s what the library district wanted,” Wright says. “I’m not trying to be vindictive. We just want them to go do their thing, and we’ll do our thing.”

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Tolman maintains the agreement isn’t real clear on this point, but the funding the library receives puts the county at a financial disadvantage to fight it.

“By the end of the fiscal year, (the library) will have $4.3 million … and a few years ago they spent $2 million on a remodel (of the Idaho Falls Library entrance). It seems really petty and outside the scope of what library services are for to take all those resources from a community,” Tolman says.

But even if the library removes property and resources, Tolman says they still “have a sizeable budget” and “have no fear whatsoever” about being able to open a new library in October.

She hopes it will rally people to their cause and motivate people to volunteer their time and donate resources for the Ammon library.

“Something else we hope to capitalize on is … people who want to share their expertise in providing a living library where it’s flexible, people come to learn through different sources … and we would be the hub of collecting different things that would be useful to our citizens,” she says.

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