When Connie Behe began working for the library in Kalispell in 2009, it was still called the Flathead County Library System and she was a new member of the team.
Now, nearly 10 years later, the Flathead County Library System has evolved into the ImagineIF Libraries, and Behe, whose most-recent role at the library was as assistant director, is now the team leader.
Kim Crowley, the executive director of the county’s libraries for nearly 15 years, retired on Aug. 3, and Monday, Aug. 6 was Behe’s first day as the new executive director.
“I’m excited to step into more and new responsibilities,” Behe asid. “We’re at a very exciting time in the valley.”
Crowley said Behe, who was her assistant director while Crowley was still at the library, is a natural fit for the leadership role. They had a succession plan in place for about four years with Behe to replace Crowley, and the transition was seamless.
The two worked closely on the ImagineIF rebranding project in 2014, which gave the libraries a new look and community-focused programming.
“Connie and I have been working together for about 10 years,” Crowley said. “Since we rebranded to ImagineIF, we’ve pretty much been co-leading the organization.”
The rebranding changed the libraries’ names and programming, but it also came with a larger cultural change within the library staff, Crowley said.
“We have an amazing staff who have really bought into everything that we’ve been doing in the community,” Crowley said. “They’re passionate about their work, and that also feeds into this ease of me departing and Connie stepping in.”
As Behe takes on the leadership role, she plans to continue the libraries’ momentum by deepening its ties to the community and in programming. A tangible goal is to create new facilities for the libraries, especially the Kalispell location.
The library is already in discussions about being an anchor tenant in the Kalispell Core Area Revitalization Plan’s project replacing the railroad tracks in the middle of town with a walking path, she said. ImagineIF is also in conversations about buying new property in Bigfork for a library.
The biggest hurdle in these plans is funding, Behe said. The ImagineIF Library Foundation continues to provide great support, she said, but she’d like to see funding stabilize.
Behe is looking forward to deepening the library’s relationships in the community, while also ensuring her staff sees development as well. As the valley continues to grow, Behe said she wants the library to be a part of that process.
“I feel like this is the best time to be doing this work,” Behe said.
“I’m confident Connie can take the lead and get that done,” she said.
ImagineIF Library in Kalispell will host a community celebration of inclusivity on Sept. 15 in collaboration with Love Lives Here, to take place on the library’s porch. For more information, call 406-758-5820.