Flathead County

Library Trustee Takes Aim at ‘Fair Treatment’ Policy

The ImagineIF policy committee is set to discuss the ‘Fair Treatment’ policy on July 5, with the Flathead County Republicans encouraging members to attend

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

A member of the ImagineIF Libraries Board of Trustees has indicated her desire to remove provisions in the library’s “Fair Treatment” policy that expressly resist censorship.

At the Board’s June 22 meeting, Trustee Carmen Cuthbertson led a discussion on creating a comprehensive policy manual that would include renaming and revising the policies. Cuthbertson told the board she took particular issue with a section of the policy that states: “Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.”

“I think telling us that we need to go out there and get into the fray on some free speech activities of other groups is not at all within the scope of our mission,” Cuthbertson said during the meeting.

A year ago, Cuthbertson’s appointment to the ImagineIF board touched off a controversy that led to another trustee’s resignation. Prior to her appointment, Cuthbertson had been a vocal attendee at trustee meetings, routinely offering public comment. She was also the main proponent for removing the book “Gender Queer” from the library’s collection after filing a book challenge.

Policy discussions among the ImagineIF trustees have skewed in a more conservative direction in recent years as a succession of new additions to the five-member board shifted the majority. Previous workshops to rewrite policies have led to the board renouncing the library’s relationship with the American Library Association (ALA) and resulted in clashes over the definition of censorship.

Board Chair Doug Adams at an ImagineIF Libraries board meeting in Columbia Falls on Oct. 27, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Board chair Doug Adams has also advocated for substantially altering the Fair Treatment policy, which was mostly recently revised in 2022 when references to the ALA were removed. The policy currently opens as follows:

“The Library Board of Trustees affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their successes. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded solely because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

Adams responded that removing or rewriting a policy would need to be done by the policy committee, with recommendations brought back to the board for consideration.

During the previous discussions to amend the Fair Treatment policy, Adams indicated he wanted to remove sections I and II, a revision that would allow the board to act without risks of violating their own policies. He has also recommended removing wording around censorship from board policies, which would give the board latitude to remove controversial books such as “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel with a transgender protagonist that was a flashpoint for the trustees in 2021 following Cuthbertson’s request for its removal. Cuthbertson was subsequently appointed to the board by the Flathead County Commission.

Former ImagineIF Assistant Director Sean Anderson, who was often a vocal opponent of Adams and the board’s majority during policy discussions, strongly advocated against anything but a “full-throated defiance of censorship” in written policies.

Board member Carmen Cuthbertson at an ImagineIF Libraries board meeting in Columbia Falls on Oct. 27, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Two days after the trustee meeting, the Flathead County Republicans sent out an email encouraging members to attend the ImagineIF policy committee meeting on July 5, with “special attention” to the fair treatment policy, of which they quoted the introduction with a call to share thoughts and concerns.

The local Republican organization has previously been outspoken about the makeup of the library board, including sending out a “call to action” last year to support Cuthbertson’s appointment to the historically nonpartisan board.

The policy committee will meet on July 5 at 11 a.m. in the downstairs meeting room of the Kalispell library branch.