Flathead County

Commissioners Make Final Library Board Appointment

Jane Wheeler’s appointment brings the ImagineIF trustee board to full capacity

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

The Flathead County commissioners at their Oct. 3 meeting appointed Jane Wheeler to the ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees, filling the vacant position left when trustee Marsha Sultz resigned in June.

This was the second appointment to the library board made this year, following Carmen Cuthbertson’s appointment earlier this summer, which led to Sultz’ resignation.

Wheeler was one of two candidates recommended to the commissioners by the library trustees out of 11 applicants. She was also recommended as a candidate for the previous open trustee position, with only trustee Dave Ingram voting against the recommendation both times. 

Wheeler has a Master’s degree in library and information science and spent years serving as a school librarian across the country. She credits the initial version of the county library — the Carnegie Library in Flathead County — as her childhood inspiration toward pursuing the field. She spent 15 years serving on the West Valley School Board and during her initial interview with the trustees talked about the differences between being a trustee and actually running an institution. 

“The differences are a big deal,” she said. “Libraries are run by professionals who have the training to run a library, and they report to the board.”

Wheeler emphasized her desire to ensure the robust number of youth-oriented programs ImagineIF currently hosts continue and even expand, to cement access for younger patrons as a core value.

“A great library to me is one that serves the whole community,” she told the trustees. “A great library is one that has a breadth of materials and interests in the library.”

Wheeler’s extensive experience in the field of library science may provide a measure of balance to a trustee board that has veered sharply away from established library principles such as advocating for the freedom to read. None of the other four trustees have worked in a public library setting — and at least one does not have a library card, according to the current director.

The trustees also recommended Taalyr Claridge out of the applicant pool, a candidate who said in her interview that she wanted to focus on the library’s fiscal responsibility and advocate for the moral safety of library patrons.

Wheeler’s appointment was unanimous by the county commissioners, and no members of the public offered comment ahead of the decision, though several showed up with “Taalyr Claridge for Library Board” buttons. A row of regular trustee meeting attendees were visibly relieved by the commissioners’ decision, a vastly different reaction than the previous appointment of Cuthbertson caused.

Cuthbertson became a regular part of library discussions following her challenge to the book “Gender Queer” in October of last year when she requested the library remove the adult graphic novel from its collection. Since her appointment to the board this year, she has attempted to remove another book, “Not My Idea, A Book About Whiteness,” from the shelves.

As Wheeler is filling in Sultz’ unexpired term, she will serve until June 2023 and will be eligible for reappointment for two additional full terms.

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