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Library directors across Montana oppose removal of master’s degree requirement

by NICOLE GIRTEN Daily Montanan
| December 5, 2023 12:00 AM

Library directors signed a letter read during a public hearing Friday in opposition to removing the requirement for a master’s degree for the position in larger cities in the state.

The brief hearing held by the Montana State Library Commission featured one proponent, who represented a library standing to benefit from the change; and one opponent, who read a letter signed by library directors across the state.

The hearing – which lasted less than ten minutes – was a snapshot of how libraries in the state feel about the potential requirement shift.

The commission will make its final decision on whether to make the change at a meeting next week.

The proponent of the change, as well as commissioners who proposed it, feel dropping the requirement would give local control to libraries to decide whether to hire a library director with a master’s degree and would remove “ALA dominance” from the hiring process, or American Library Association.

The Montana State Library Commission was the first in the country to withdraw from the American Library Association, citing comments made by the incoming president of the organization in which she self-identified as a “Marxist lesbian” in a since-deleted tweet.

The opponent, speaking on behalf of many libraries in the state, said the change diminishes standards for libraries in the state and was a “political attack” on Montana libraries.

“Undermining the standard at the request of one library can be the first step down the slippery slope undermining any and all standards,” said opponent Lewis and Clark Library Board Member Judy Meadows in the hearing. “The standards exist to ensure quality. Local control is not a standard.”

The state library commission voted 5-2 in October to support a proposal to end the master of library sciences degree requirement for library directors in the state’s largest libraries.

The commission administers grants, sets library standards for the state and certifies librarians.

Currently, Kalispell’s ImagineIF library is the only one in the state that is out of compliance with the current education standards. The Montana Library Association, a statewide advocacy group for policies and resources for libraries and library professionals, came out against the proposed rule change last month.

The one proponent to strike the requirement of a master’s degree was David Ingram, chairperson of the ImagineIf Library Board of Trustees.

Ingram, who gave his comment separate from his affiliation with the library, said under current standards the decision to hire a library director “essentially forces large libraries to select an ALA-certified candidate.”

Ingram said the argument larger libraries are shouldering some of the costs for smaller libraries, like hiring master’s level directors, was a “progressive perspective” that was “at odds with equal treatment to me and our county’s taxpayers.”

Ingram said the effect of the rule change would equalize “large and small libraries to employ whomever they see fit.”

Libraries servicing fewer than 25,000 people are already not required to hire a library director with a master’s degree. Ingram said with the rule change, larger libraries could still choose to hire a library director with a master’s degree.

“I want to thank the commissioners for their desire to return control to the local level whenever possible and removing ALA dominance in the hiring process,” Ingram said.

Meadows, the opponent to the change, read a letter she said was signed by library directors in Great Falls, Helena, Butte, Billings, Bozeman, Hamilton and Missoula.

Meadows said the commission decision to consider the change left the library community “feeling disappointed and dismayed.”

“The purpose of the standards is to incentivize local investment in staffing and services so that all Montanans can access quality library services,” Meadows said.

She said the only reason the master’s degree standard was limited to libraries in bigger communities was “out of recognition that our smallest libraries may not have the tax base to support the salary necessary to hire a degreed librarian.”

“But 13 Montana libraries have hired degreed librarians as directors despite serving fewer than 25,000 – some of the smallest are Columbus and Ekalaka,” she said.

She said Missoula had three finalists for the director position who met the master’s degree requirement.

Meadows said, and the library directors from communities across the state agreed, the commission did not serve libraries in advocating to make this change.

“Their actions felt like a subtly subversive and political attack on Montana libraries,” she said.

The commission will take a final vote on whether to adopt the change at their meeting on Dec. 6.

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan, a nonprofit newsroom. To read the article as originally published, click here.