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Trustees making irresponsible decisions

| January 15, 2022 12:00 AM

[This letter was sent to the Flathead County Commissioners.]

I am emailing you to express my concern about our currently appointed library trustees, specifically Doug, Heidi and David. These trustees are making irresponsible decisions that are harming the integrity of our county public library system.

Entertaining reactive book complaints and overriding a library director’s professional position are resulting in cause for concern. A red flag is raised when multiple dedicated, long-time library professionals are resigning due to board overreach.

While public, nonprofit boards hire directors and are tasked with oversight of fiscal and general transparency of an organization, a director is delegated to perform everyday management, hiring and in this case, book selection and maintenance based on community requests and a knowledgeable unbiased approach to public library administration.

Our public library system is based on the concept of the free dissemination of information across the board ... all classes, all education levels, all individual identities, all personal dogmas, etc. It is not to succumb to any one particular demographic’s personal, political or religious beliefs based on the popularity of such in any given geographical area.

Our public library exists to provide a wide variety of information and services to everyone in a community. That means that when requested, they are pretty much obligated to provide book selections.

A professionally trained librarian is knowledgeable about when and why certain books might not be appropriate for a public library and they are assigned to organize a library to service different demographics in an unbiased way.

They will not and should not reject books based on someone else’s religious or personal beliefs about particular people or book content. A public library maintains a collection of books that represent a wide variety of constituents.

It’s disturbing that the current board has entertained and over-ridden the director’s decision in regards to the particular books currently in question.

They are also apparently entertaining the idea of a “community book selection board.” This is highly concerning and can/will lead to potential censorship based on the popular/majority sentiments of a particular community and will expose the library and county to legal recourse.

They have also now been compelled (by their own doing) to eliminate director position standards and requirements in order to hire a non-qualified individual into that position. Not only do you lose funding sources, but you lose the experience and qualifications needed to run a library of this size.

Numerous potential candidates have bowed out not only due to lower pay being offered, but also due to understanding that the resignation of multiple directors in such a short period of time is an indication that the current board is overreaching and creating a questionable work environment.

An unqualified director will also be more easily manipulated by an overreaching board. Our public libraries are one of the last places where true liberal ideals of freedom are allowed and required to exist with the goal of providing a wide base of knowledge, information and materials to the public at essentially no cost.

This includes information/materials you may not like and servicing people you may not agree with.

We all contribute to it and we all benefit from it no matter if you are Democrat or a Republican, a Christian or an atheist, a POC or not, a cis-gendered individual or an LGBTQ individual, a rich person or a poor one.

I am requesting that you reconsider your appointments based on overreaching and inappropriate trustee behavior. The board of our public library should not be staffed by individuals who have been known and vocal about their own anti-government sentiments and personal/religious beliefs in other forums. It is apparent that they are not leaving those beliefs at home when they are filling their role as public library trustees, as exhibited by their current decisions.

These decisions are exposing our library to vulnerability and potentially prohibiting it to serve it’s primary mission “to provide free and open access to a broad range of materials and services to people of all ages and backgrounds”

It is the trustees’ individual right and freedom to establish a private library to serve those that they want to serve, but it is not their right and freedom to destroy or morph our public library into such at the behest of reactive, outspoken, loud opinionated people.

Thanks for your time.

— Michelle Saurey, Whitefish

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