Systematically Dismantling the Library

It takes years of effort by hundreds of people to build a great library like ImagineIF

By Joseph Biby

Flathead County once had a library called ImagineIF. It was an award-winning library widely recognized for its innovations and its excellence. The community was proud of it and the staff was as well. The retention of those library workers was bedrock solid. “I love my job,” was a typical refrain if you asked them. Library patrons knew the names of the staff and relied on their advice and guidance to navigate the bookshelves and other resources. Perhaps one of the great acts of philanthropy in this nation’s history is the legacy of libraries that Andrew Carnegie left. ImagineIF was a shining testimony to that legacy.

  A measurement of the excellence to be found at ImagineIF was the children’s story hour, a popular weekly event for parents and their youngsters. Several librarians typically led the story readings. Kids were invited to contribute by answering questions, singing along, and engaging in hands-on activities. The kids’ section was rich with activities and learning stations, you knew that because the parents and children stayed long after story hour had finished. They left with tote bags of books, free treasures to read at home and return for the next family to enjoy.

Another indication of the excellence that was the ImagineIF library were the fundraisers called “Loud at the Library.” These gatherings were festive events crowded with community members. It was relatively easy to attract business leaders and benefactors, in part, because support of the library was seen as apolitical. Generous donors knew that contributing to the county library was widely recognized as a source of pride and, as Andrew Carnegie likely calculated, a smart business endeavor.

It takes years of effort by hundreds of people to build a great library like ImagineIF. It takes relatively no time at all to significantly harm one. ImagineIF has systematically been dismantled. We know that by the excellent reporting of Flathead Beacon writer Micah Drew. Email exchanges between county commissioners and the library trustees they appointed show a deliberate effort to undermine and weaken the library leadership. Measures were taken to rewrite the policies of the library. These efforts were initiated even before the controversy arose over two books within the library collection.

The library has lost its best and brightest. Both its previous director and interim director have resigned in just six months. A number of additional staff have departed. The highly regarded and successful library foundation director has just resigned. $35,000 in annual funding from the state has been lost with the hiring of a new library director who does not meet Montana’s public library standards.

ImagineIF joins just three other libraries out of 82 in Montana that are not certified. Citing a shortage of staff, the library has recently reduced its hours of operation. Andrew Carnegie would be shocked at the library trustee overreach and power grab that has yielded this intentional wreckage.

Flathead County once had a library called ImagineIF. It was a beautiful historic building that included many books, some that celebrated freedom of speech. It held resources that represented a wide array of views and beliefs. Some of those books reminded readers that all men and women are created equal and could expect to find literature that reflected that diversity and equality. Some of those books warned us that a healthy democracy requires an informed and enlightened citizenry, and further that democracy dies in darkness. The county commissioners and the library trustees they appointed have seen to it that the lights of our lovely ImagineIF library are going dark.

Joseph Biby

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