The ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees is making progress toward hiring a new director to oversee the operations of Flathead County’s library system.
Former director Connie Behe announced her resignation in June after serving in the role for three years and working for ImagineIF for 12. Interim director Martha Furman, a 15-year veteran of the library, resigned her role after four months, citing struggles with the board of trustees.
The board hired California-based recruiting firm, CPR HR Consulting, to help in the nationwide search, and a total of 15 applications were submitted. The pool was whittled down to six candidates for preliminary interviews and on Dec. 16 three candidates took part in public video interviews.
Ashley Cummins, Alysha Wogee and Abby O’Neill joined trustees and members of the public on Zoom for 30-minute interviews where they were asked about the prospective relationship between director and board, the role of libraries in the community and views on some library policies.
Cummins interviewed before the trustees first. She is completing her bachelor’s degree in Community Studies and Leadership with plans to continue working towards her master’s degree in library science.
She currently serves as the director at Russelville Public Library in Russellville, Ala., a small rural library that serves a community of around 30,000. Cummins began working at the library as an assistant in 2010 and has served as director for seven years.
“A library is a very broad idea,” Cummins said in the interview. “We are a bridge in the community, we play every role in a community.”
When asked about the role between a director and the trustees, Cummins said there should be near-constant interaction, while also stating that she didn’t believe it was typical for a board to manage staff outside the director.
Cummins spoke about her library’s handling of collection complaints that centered around a series of books about the Wiccan religion and working with the board to review the policies in place.
“At the end of the day, the board has all the control,” she said. “It’s the director’s job to follow the policy and implement it.”
O’Neill has spent more than two decades working with the Cuyahoga County library system in Cleveland, Ohio. The library serves more than a half million citizens through 27 different branches.
Starting out in a public services position at the library, O’Neill has worked in material acquisitions, reference and research for patrons and marketing, while also spending two years in charge of scheduling and staffing all 27 branches of the library system. Currently she serves as a branch circulation supervisor.
“Inquiry is important to me in this job — everyone has a perspective and I’ll respect that, listen to that and with information and context make decisions,” O’Neill told the Beacon after her public interview.
Asked about book challenges ImagineIF is currently facing, O’Neill affirmed the need for balance.
“Historically, individuals are and can be disturbed by certain content in a library,” she said. “We have to value that as well as those who are supportive of controversial issues.”
After discussing the candidates in an executive session, the trustees voted to advance Cummins and O’Neill for on-site visits.
In interviews with the Beacon after Thursday’s formal interviews, both candidates were asked about negative sentiments expressed by trustee members about the American Library Association (ALA).
“I think the ALA is of great value,” Cummins said. “My hope is we could review what the issues are with the ALA and come to some common ground. I think to totally reject the ALA would not be a very pertinent decision.”
O’Neill said the question intrigued her, on one level because the ALA policy doctrine is nearly a century old.
“I think it’s important to be part of some collective,” she said. “I’m curious as to how and why the thoughts were initiated, and I’m curious what sort of ideas people on the board have about being connected to a collective.”
“The purpose is to move a library forward,” she added. “I have to assume the goal of the individuals is to move the library forward, otherwise, why else would they be on the board?”
The search for a new library director has seen some setbacks including a lack of interest from targeted, qualified candidates, according to documents produced by the hiring firm.
Five candidates withdrew from the hiring process prior to the initial interviews on Dec. 10., citing salary, cost of living and board politics as impediments.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.