Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Let’s celebrate our libraries

by Francy McAllister, Roxie Lehl, Joan Gates, Marylane Pannell and Jill Carlberg
| January 9, 2022 1:00 AM

In the Flathead Valley, we have a standout public library system and staff which we should celebrate and hold dear. The good news is many of us do. The sad news is that several members of the board of trustees have demonstrated through their words, actions, and decisions that they do not value our libraries and what they have achieved. Over the past year, board actions have negatively impacted our library staff and public programs and are now threatening our public libraries’ long-term viability.

Many members of our community attend, listen closely, and express their views at the Trustee Meetings and to our local papers. They are dismayed and concerned by what they have been hearing at the meetings:

• Keeping the library operating budget flat since 2017 – the only department held to a non-growth budget in our rapidly growing community.

• Lowering the salary for our executive director, a job that requires an advanced degree, ability to manage three different locations and 35 staff.

• Providing the reasoning behind many of their decisions as the need to show “fiscal responsibility.”

Unfortunately, the members of the board who uttered these words have not shared the complementary long-term strategy that is required to make these decisions fiscally responsible, rendering them irresponsible and to blame for setting our library and community backward. Recovering lost ground will cost all of us more in the end.

Throwing in political viewpoints on decisions impacting the library (e.g., Doug Adams’ proclaiming that the American Library Association has a “leftist agenda”). It is a sad day when we need to remind a library trustee that public libraries are to be neutral and represent everyone in the community and that politics should have nothing to do with it.

Questioning the professional judgment of our library directors and professional staff on library specific matters. Trustees are not there to run our libraries’ day-to-day operations and assume they know how to run a library better than the library professionals. Per their job description:

The Board of Trustees of the Flathead County Library System is a volunteer group of individuals who assume fiscal oversight and policy direction for the organization. Generally the responsibilities of the Board of Trustees include: hiring and evaluating the performance of the Library Director, setting policies for the organization; approving the organization’s operating budget and overseeing its implementation; and serving as an advocate and spokesperson for the Library.

We have a board that is divided with three members voting together to undermine public services which our community has enjoyed for a long time. These three have not demonstrated that they are advocates for our libraries as their job description requires; in fact, their decisions and words undermine our libraries and their staff. Equally offensive, they are insincere in their role as trustee. Their published letters in response to the many letters written by the public were dismissive of concerns expressed.

We ask that all trustees listen to the people in the community who use the public libraries and respond to their concerns. If you cannot act in the capacity of trustee, please recuse yourself from duty and allow someone who wants to support our libraries assume the role, someone who will meet the requirements of the job and be an advocate for our system.

If they will not, we ask the county commissioners who appointed these individuals to listen to their community and take action.

Whether you are an active library user or not, please consider what is happening and speak up if you want to live in a community that values a strong, vibrant public library free from political ties and individual agendas.

Thank you to ImagineIF staff and its current and former leaders for putting your expertise, education, and passion into helping us build the award-winning library we have today. Please join us in celebrating our ImagineIF Library System and be thankful for this community center.

Friends of ImagineIF Libraries officers Francy McAllister, Roxie Lehl, Joan Gates, Marylane Pannell and Jill Carlberg.

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