We, the undersigned, are proud residents of Flathead County. We believe that a thriving public library is the hallmark of a vibrant, informed, connected community. Recently, politically motivated actions taken by some County Commissioner-appointed members of the ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees are threatening the quality of library services, collections and staff, and costing our library access to state and non-profit funding. We call on our elected county commissioners, to uphold their oath of office to support, protect, and defend our First Amendment rights to access the information we choose at our public libraries and to serve the will of the residents of Flathead County. We call on our library trustees to do the same.
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We write to demand the following:
Appropriate Library Funding: ImagineIF’s budget has remained relatively stagnant since budget cuts in 2017, despite significant community growth and increases in demand for library services. We believe that the library budget needs to be appropriately increased to reflect our growing community. A budget increase to offset the impending loss of $33,000 in state funding is not enough- we want to see ImagineIF Libraries funded at a per capita level comparable with MT peer libraries of our size. Libraries are crucial centers for knowledge, literacy programs for young children, resources for business owners, activities for teens, and community gathering places, and so much more. We want to state clearly that our tax dollars should be invested in these important library projects.
Appropriate Library Facilities: ImagineIF is the only comparably sized public library system in Montana that does not own facilities. Currently, fire code dictates that the ImagineIf-Bigfork library can only house 16 people, meaning that taxpaters can’t even access the programs they pay for. . The ImagineIFLibrary Foundation has offered to gift Flathead County a right-sized, purpose designed, fully renovated and furnished library facility in Bigfork, paid for entirely with donor dollars. We insist that steps be immediately taken by the County Commissioners and Board of Trustees to begin the process of accepting that gift, and work toward acquiring purpose-designed library facilities that meet the needs of Flathead County’s growing population in Kalispell and Columbia Falls.
Appropriate Staff: The ImagineIF Library system has only three professional library staff with master’s degrees in library science or an equivalent field — the fewest advanced degrees of Montana’s six largest libraries. The library board has cut wages for open positions, slashed educational requirements for the library director, has failed to maintain appropriate boundaries with staff, and has been cited as a primary reason for employee resignations. The way the Board of Trustees treats staff matters a great deal, and respect for experience and training is a must. A library director should be hired who holds an MLS, meeting the criteria to be a credentialled public library in Montana. Support for staff training, experience, respect for staff roles, diverse and uncensored materials collections, and a collaborative work environment must occur.
Neutrality in Board Members: “Political winds” should not dictate the direction of a library nor the curation of its materials. Library board members should maintain a neutral role free from agenda or influence of personal beliefs, support equal access to a diverse collection of library materials, and promote a robust and vibrant library. We support the strong policies ImagineIF has in place to protect every patron’s freedom and liberty to request and obtain books on a diverse range of topics.Trustees must respect and support not just our local library’s role in defending our freedom to read, but the tenets and ethics of professional librarianship in America. Trustees must respect the boundaries between Trustees, Library Director, and Library Staff. If the current board members can’t adhere to these principles, we urge County Commissioners to appoint new Trustees who can.
Our community’s youth, economy, vibrancy, and very future depend upon a properly supported library. That is why:
We pledge to support ImagineIF Libraries.
We pledge to support and vote for pro-library candidates.
We pledge to stay involved.