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EDITORIAL: Biblio Bistro losses at Cody library must end

When money for new books takes a backseat to money for the Biblio Bistro at the Park County Library in Cody, it’s time for a change.

The Biblio Bistro, the cafe at the library, adds a nice space to relax and grab a tasty bite to eat while visiting the library. But it seems priorities are upside down when a loss of nearly $50,000 is budgeted for the Bistro for the fiscal year that began July 1, while no new money was set aside for books or audio-visual materials.

Those items will be purchased with money saved with the state library system. Once that money is gone, the library will seek grants and other money for purchasing books and other materials, Park County Library System Director Frances Clymer told the Park County Commission last month.

The Biblio Bistro, which Clymer described as a public service, has lost money every year since opening in 2008, totaling roughly $320,000. For the past several years, the library has set aside more money for the Bistro than for books.

It seems unwise, especially during an economic downturn, to put a greater emphasis on subsidizing the Bistro than on setting aside money for buying books and other materials. What, after all, is a library for?

Commissioner Tim French said he’s had feedback from members of the public who like the Bistro, so they’re willing to support it with taxes. But if the losses continue, French warned, there will be changes, or the Bistro could be shut down.

While stopping short of ordering changes, commissioners suggested a few things library leaders could try to reduce the Bistro’s shortfall, such as privatizing the Bistro, reviving a partnership with Northwest College to offer culinary classes in the Bistro’s kitchen or offering simpler and less labor-intensive foods.

Clymer has said privatizing the Bistro isn’t a viable option, because many library cafes leased out to private operators fail within months.

But we believe it would be worth at least feeling out the Cody business community to see what kind of interest there is in the library’s cafe space and what money-saving or money-making partnerships might be possible. 

We also think it makes sense to consider scaling back the offerings at the Bistro; it could still be a welcoming cafe without a full menu.

So far, the commission has forbidden the library to advertise the Bistro or its offerings, out of concern of competing with local restaurants.

While it’s impossible to know whether the ability to advertise would make a big difference in the Bistro’s bottom line, we’ll never know unless library leaders are allowed to try it. It seems unreasonable to criticize Clymer and the library board for not making a profit with the Bistro — or at least breaking even — while also preventing them from making their best effort. If advertising is not a palatable option, then perhaps it’s another sign that the operation should be privatized.

It’s possible that some of the library’s and Bistro’s patrons could have other ideas that would be worth giving a try as well.

There are plenty of questions about how the Bistro might be changed in order to minimize or eliminate budgetary losses. But one thing is for sure: In times of diminishing county revenues, it’s time to cut those losses, one way or another.

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