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ImagineIf library foundation director explains resignation

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | February 3, 2022 12:00 AM

ImagineIF Library Foundation Executive Director Charlotte Housel on Wednesday officially announced her resignation from the position, citing burnout and a stressed relationship with the ImagineIf Libraries board of trustees as her reasons for stepping down.

Housel has served in the position since 2017 as the foundation has grown to a prominent fundraising partner for the Flathead County library system. She began first as a library volunteer before taking her past experience in the private sector and applying it to leading the foundation.

“This is bittersweet,” she said. “But I’ve reached the end of my usefulness with the library board of trustees. It’s time for a new face to come in and try to build a positive relationship with them.”

Housel’s resignation is effective March 14. The ImagineIF Library Foundation Board has already begun a search to hire a new director.

Housel’s resignation comes in the wake of turmoil surrounding the ImagineIF Libraries board of trustees, including ongoing tensions between the board and library staff.

At a recent board meeting, trustees initially denied Housel and a library staff member seats at the table with board members, seemingly doing away with the standard of previous meetings.

Housel has been outspoken in her opposition to the board’s recent hiring of new library director Ashley Cummins, who is set to officially start March 7. She pointed to concerns about the board’s decision to hire a director who lacks the experience to oversee the library through a major capital campaign.

Housel, who has a background in advertising including working for the Washington Post, said she feels burnt out in her role as executive director of the foundation and has made the decision to spend more time with her family.

“I took this job because of the exemplary job the library was doing and the inspiring and positive impact it was having on the community,” she said. “But this past year has been a tough one. The library was at the tip of the spear and now it’s struggling to maintain any level of service.”

The library budget has been stagnant and because of a lack of staffing the library hasn’t been able to use all of the grant funds provided by the foundation for programming, she notes.

The foundation notes in its mission that it works closely with the library board and library director to fund facility upgrades, programming and materials not included in the county library budget.

Under Housel’s leadership, the foundation has had a track record of securing major gifts and grants, exceeding annual fundraising goals, and executing the capital campaign for the new Bigfork library building. She leaves just as the foundation recently surpassed the halfway point in donations raised for the new $1.6 million library building for Bigfork.

Housel says working on the Bigfork library campaign along with creating an endowment for the library foundation have been two of the most rewarding parts of her job, in addition to working with the foundation board members and her fellow staff member.

“We’ve gone from doing modest fundraising to being able to generate $400,000 to $500,000 in revenue,” she said. “I’m very proud of the capacity that we’ve built. We’re well poised to help in a way we weren’t in the last five years.”

The foundation says it supplies around 3% of ImagineIF Library’s total annual operating budget out of privately raised donations, paying for programs and capital needs not covered by the public budget.

“Charlotte has launched the foundation into a new level of philanthropy of the highest standards and professionalism,” said ImagineIF Library Foundation Board President Sara Busse, in a release. “The past five years have been a period of strategic, sustained growth for the foundation, and we have Charlotte to thank for the level of expertise and vision she brought to this position and this community. We are forever grateful.”

The ImagineIF Library Foundation was incorporated in 1989 and has a mission to raise private dollars to enhance the patron services of the county libraries.

Features Editor Heidi Desch can be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com

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