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Future of ImagineIF left in the hands of 'hope'

| October 22, 2023 12:00 AM

Directors of Montana’s largest library systems no longer are required to hold a graduate degree in order for the library to qualify for state funding. The abrupt change came earlier this month after the Montana State Library Commission voted to eliminate the funding benchmark.

In defending her motion to allow the lower standard for directors, Commissioner Tammy Hall argued the commission shouldn’t dictate to local library boards how they operate. While in the same breath, she advocated for libraries to continue to strive for the higher standard.

“I hope they require various degrees. I know they will. I would hope they will,” she said.

Instead of simply maintaining the long-held standards recommended by a state library task force, Hall and the four other commissioners who backed her motion, will lean on “hope” that libraries do the right thing.

How would that work in other professions with state-mandated educational standards and certifications?

Should the Montana Board of Plumbers “hope” plumbers have met licensure requirements? Should the Montana Board of Nursing “hope” RNs have passed the boards? How about teachers? Should the Office of Public Instruction do away with teaching credentials and “hope” local school administrators hire only qualified educators?

While the State Library Commission’s move to remove standards for directors is being cloaked as a win for local control, it’s really a sad illustration of the state’s diminished respect for the important role library directors fulfill as public leaders and decision-makers.

The last few years of book challenges and general library upheaval have shown that not just anyone can meet those challenges while maintaining a steady hand on daily operations — it takes experience, and yes, certain qualifications.

Nonetheless, with the change, the ball is now in ImagineIF Libraries’ court as the board of trustees opens its search for a new library director following Ashely Cummins’ departure — the third director to resign in the last two years.

Every large library system in the state has a director that meets the now-defunct educational threshold. Will the ImagineIF trustees return Flathead County’s once-heralded and award-winning library to those ranks?

At this point, all we can do is “hope” they make the right decision.