Library Board Affirms Decision to Not Appeal Loss of Funding

Board members will seek clarification from Montana State Library Commission on certification standards related to a library director’s education

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Library in Kalispell on March 14, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

During a hastily scheduled meet of the ImagineIF board of trustees on April 1, board members discussed the merits and faults of seeking an appeal for lost state funding before agreeing to send members to Helena to seek clarification on the state’s certification standards.

Following a failed vote on March 24 to appeal the disqualification of $35,000 in funding from the state due to hiring a new director who does not meet Montana’s educational requirements, the trustees convened an emergency meeting to continue the discussion, this time with a full board present. Only four trustees were present on March 24 and the vote failed.

Trustee Dave Ingram made a motion to reconsider appealing the funding decision to the Montana State Library (MSL) Commission and use the opportunity before the commission to “provide our perspective on our [hiring] decision.”

In January, the trustees voted 3-2 to hire a new library director, Ashley Cummins. Under current Montana library standards, the director of a library serving a community of more than 25,000 people must have a master’s degree in library science (MLS) or a similar degree to maintain certification and be eligible for state funding. While Cummins spent several years as the director of a small library in Alabama, she does not have an MLS, and the trustees were told by Montana State Librarian Jennie Stapp that ImagineIF would not be able to ask for a certification waiver since they hired Cummins in full knowledge of the funding loss.

“I never wanted an exemption in the first place. We knew what we were doing so we don’t deserve an exemption,” said trustee Doug Adams, who was absent from the March 24 meeting. “There’s no reason in my mind, no moral justification for asking.”

Board chair Heidi Roedel stated she thought the state commission needed to understand the difficulties the board had during the hiring process, and how trustees make decisions on how to run a library, especially in a difficult hiring climate.  

“If you’ll remember, you changed the job description, within the job description you changed the qualifications, and before that you changed the salary,” said trustee Connie Leistiko. “So, what do you want the commission to do about that? Those were choices by a majority of this board.”

Instead of appealing the funding, Adams requested an official board presence at the state commission meeting on April 13 to seek clarification on the library certification standards, specifically how they relate to the director’s education and whether the standard could be changed in the future.

The main area of clarification focuses on the requirement of a master’s degree for a library director, which many states do not require regardless of library size. Cummins stated that in addition to her 127 hours of bachelor’s degree coursework she has certifications from both the University of Alabama and the Idaho Commission for Libraries.

“Is there something we cannot accomplish as a library staff because there’s someone working under Ashley that has (the MLS) as opposed to her?” Adams asked. “I don’t understand why is has to be just the director [that qualifies for certification].”

Ingram added that running a library is a team responsibility and the entire ImagineIF management team has achieved at the high level expected by the trustees throughout the transition period.

“One thing that speaks to that is that even though these last six months have happened, I think this library is still performing at an excellent level,” Leistiko said. “I’ve seen no drop off from its award-winning status.”

At least three trustees, Roedel, Ingram and Adams, along with director Cummins, will travel to Helena for the April 13 meeting of the Montana State Library Commission. No taxpayer funds will be used for the trip and the meeting will have a virtual viewing option. For more information visit https://mslservices.mt.gov/ASPeN/Events/Event_Detail?Event_ID=20678.

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