ImagineIF Libraries Director Resigns

Ashley Cummins, hired in 2022, stepped down from the top position due to family circumstances

By Micah Drew
Ashley Cummins, ImagineIF Libraries Director, attends a library board meeting in Columbia Falls on Oct. 27, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

ImagineIF Libraries Director Ashley Cummins announced late Thursday afternoon she has resigned her post with Flathead County and will be returning to her home state of Alabama to be closer to family. Her last day overseeing Flathead County’s three-branch library system will be on Oct. 27.

The ImagineIF Board of Trustees accepted Cummins’ resignation during an executive session of its Sept. 28 board meeting.

“We appreciate your dedication and hard work throughout your tenure here,” the board wrote in their acceptance letter. “Your contribution has been invaluable, and your commitment to excellence has left a lasting impression on the board.”

The trustees unanimously voted to appoint Teri Dugan, ImagineIF Libraries’ office administrator, as the library system’s acting director upon Cummins’ departure.

“Our priority is to continue a level of excellence in service to our patrons through professionalism and hard work,” board chair David Ingram said in a press release. “We have a dedicated, competent staff and are confident in our ability to maintain uninterrupted library services to the public.”

In a letter sent to staff and patrons, Cummins described her gratitude for the support received from staff members and the community throughout her tenure as the ImagineIF Libraries director.

“To our wonderful community of patrons, I am humbled by the support and enthusiasm you have shown for our library,” Cummins wrote. “Your daily presence, support of library events, your feedback, and your love for reading have been the driving force behind our efforts to provide best-in-class library services. I have no doubt that the library will remain a cornerstone of our community and continue to enrich the lives of our residents while fostering a love of reading and lifelong learning.

Cummins also thanked the trustees for giving her the opportunity to run one of the state’s largest libraries, as well as the Flathead County commissioners for their support of the library system. In her time at ImagineIF, Cummins worked with the ImagineIF Library Foundation to raise support for the new Bigfork library branch, as well as helped earn county support for a new main Kalispell branch.

“As I once again embark on a new chapter in this book of life, please know that I carry with me fond memories and a deep appreciation for the time I have spent here,” Cummins said. “My commitment to the power of public libraries, free speech, and the library’s ability to enrich lives and communities remains unshaken, and I will carry that passion with me wherever I go.”

Cummins’ departure marks the third resignation by a library director since 2021. In July of that year, Connie Behe resigned from her position to take a new job at the Pierce County Library in Tacoma, Washington, after spending three years as the ImagineIF Director.

A senior librarian, Martha Furman, who had been with ImagineIF for 15 years, was elevated to interim director by the trustees during the search for Behe’s replacement. However, Furman resigned after just four months citing interference by the trustee board in library operations, staffing and materials.

During the hiring process for a new director, the trustees lowered the director’s salary by nearly $10,000, a move that made filling the position difficult and was seen by many librarians as a devaluation of the library profession.

Cummins was one of two finalists for the position and was hired in a 3-2 decision. The split decision was in part due to Cummins not having a Master’s Degree in Library Science, or any graduate degree. Under the Administrative Rules of Montana, the director of a library serving more than 25,000 people must have a graduate degree in library or information science or an equivalent field, for the library to be certified by the Montana State Library and receive state funding.

As one of just three libraries in the state that does not meet state standards, ImagineIF Libraries is ineligible for roughly $42,000 in state funds annually.

Over the last 18 months, the ImagineIF trustees have made several appeals to recertify the library despite not meeting the state standards and have pushed the Montana State Library (MSL) commission to change the rules requiring directors of the state’s largest libraries to have advanced degrees.

The Montana State Library Commission recently convened a task force to investigate changing the administrative rules, with ImagineIF trustee chair David Ingram one of the appointed task force members.

In a Sept 22 meeting, the task force voted to recommend retaining the standard requiring a graduate degree, with Ingram voting in opposition, and Carmen Cuthbertson, an ImagineIF trustee and MSL commissioner, voicing her support for doing away with the requirement. Public comment, and surveys sent to library directors, staff and trustees, overwhelmingly favored keeping the requirement for an advanced degree at the state’s largest libraries.

With another hiring process looming, the ImagineIF board of trustees will again face a decision with a $42,000 price tag, even as some trustees continue pushing for a change to state rules.

The last search for a library director lasted roughly six months. The trustees have not released a timeline for convening a hiring committee and beginning the process of hiring Cummins’ replacement.

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