Like I Was Saying

A Concocted Controversy

Allowing local residents to check out any book on any range of thoughts and ideas, some of which may be controversial, isn’t liberal. It’s libertarian.

By Kellyn Brown

At a Flathead County Library Board of Trustees meeting last week, it was made clear that the board members’ recent actions, led by a three-person majority, continue to hurt the bedrock institution – this time, in the form of funding. 

The ImagineIF Library Foundation Board, the fundraising arm of the local public library system, presented a letter to the trustees that read, in part: “In the past six months, the Foundation Board has been increasingly disappointed by a series of non-unanimous board decisions, and individual board conduct has damaged the reputation and capacity of ImagineIF Libraries.”

For those who haven’t been following the various actions taken by these trustees appointed by the Flathead County commissioners, here’s a refresher: They have plotted to censure queer-themed books; drove out two library directors; slashed pay for potential employees; discussed privately whether they should temporarily close the libraries and lay off the entire staff; and hired an unqualified director, which resulted in the library system no longer meeting Montana State Library certification standards and losing $35,000 in funding. 

Now, according to the Foundation Board, it is beginning to lose other types of funding. Some of those who considered giving philanthropically to the foundation out of support for our county’s award-winning library system are having second thoughts.

The foundation’s letter continued: “Reputational damage to ImagineIF harms our ability to effectively fundraise and promote the positive impact of public libraries, and we’re already feeling the fallout.” 

That fallout includes a “handful of donors” who said they were canceling or holding back their year-end gifts “because they’re troubled by some of the Trustee behaviors.” Other donors, according to the foundation, who had pledged their support for a new Bigfork library “have expressed an unwillingness to fulfill their pledge commitment until Trustee mismanagement ceases.”

This is unsurprising considering the trustees slashed library funding while trying to reshape it to align with their own ideologies. If the board tasked with supporting the local library system won’t do it, why would potential donors? 

And the Board of Trustees continues to double down on its disingenuous actions, making public a letter drafted for circulation among ImagineIF staff that includes this passage: “The county commissioners have indicated that there is a perception that the library isn’t welcoming to all, and that the library has a strong liberal bent … The Board is still working through what it means to be more balanced.”

That “work” has already begun and was laid bare in a story we previously published where trustees were discussing censoring books they didn’t like over emails and text messages before any member of the public had even filed a formal complaint about them. Now this letter makes clear that the trustees’ work to fundamentally change the library in the name of the crises it created has only begun.

Allowing local residents to check out any book on any range of thoughts and ideas, some of which may be controversial, isn’t liberal. It’s libertarian, which once was a unifying characteristic in Montana, where we may not always agree with each other, but we stayed out of each other’s business. 

The county commissioners and board of trustees concocted fake controversaries to fan a useless culture war and our libraries are collateral damage. And now those people want to decide what we should read.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.