After a Decade of ImagineIF, Library Trustees Vote to Change Name

ImagineIF Libraries will return to its former moniker, Flathead County Libraries; trustees hire interim director full-time

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Library in Kalispell on Oct. 2, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The ImagineIF Libraries board of trustees voted at their Feb. 22 meeting to do away with the library’s current name, citing ongoing confusion at the moniker adopted more than a decade ago.

Trustee Carmen Cuthbertson first raised the issue last month and last week proposed the motion to change the name, stating that the public at large doesn’t know what “ImagineIF” means, or that it’s directly related to the four-branch library system operating as a department of Flathead County.

“I am not looking for a rebranding, I think our brand is great. I am simply looking to go back to the name of Flathead County Libraries because I think that’s in the best interest of our patrons,” Cuthbertson said, noting that ImagineIF was the only library in the state with an individualized name. “I think this was an attempt to portray something about our library, and I think if it had gotten us millions of dollars in donations, or doubled our patrons, or had any kind of fantastic effect, other libraries would have followed suit … I don’t see that it served us well at all.”

According to library director Teri Dugan, the library staff had mixed opinions about changing the library’s name but were mainly concerned about the effort needed to carry out a rebrand.

Library advisor Annika Stivers spoke at the board meeting, stating she didn’t think a rebrand should be a top priority.

“A rebrand is going to take up so much staff time and attention. There are other things that would be much more impactful that we can focus on,” she told the board. “Personally, I would prefer if we were called Flathead County Libraries because it’s more fitting to this community, and the leadership pushing the ImagineIF vision just isn’t here anymore.”

The original Flathead County Library System (FCLS) rebranded to ImagineIF in 2014, part of a comprehensive strategy to change the way the library approached its work in the community.

The idea, according to former library director Kim Crowley, stemmed from the archetype of “the dreamer and the explorer.” It was a visionary attempt to change the way a library engaged with its community, with an experience-based approach that would provide a launching point to those dreamers and explorers, according to a Flathead Beacon story about the rebrand.  

The FCLS’s nonprofit fundraising partner, then called the FCLS Foundation, paid $40,000 to cover the cost of marketing consultants, new signage and the rest of the changes.

At the time, then-assistant director Connie Behe, who later served as the ImagineIF director, noted that “if the library didn’t make a change to how it approached the community, it would likely fall behind or to the wayside.”

Dugan told the board that the two-year rebranding process was “a whole culture change, of everything within the library.”

The year after ImagineIF’s rebrand, the Montana Library Association named the local library system Montana library of the year.

Cuthbertson said the motion to change the name will not include making any other changes to the libraries branding — including retaining fonts, colors schemes and even “ImagineIF” as a slogan — or require changes to programming or events.

“I don’t know that we need to make a big hullabaloo out of it frankly,” she said.

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

Sara Busse, the executive director of the ImagineIF Foundation, the current name of the library system’s nonprofit partner, requested the board table the discussion until she could receive input from her board. The Foundation is nearing the end of a capital campaign for the new library branch in Bigfork, and Busse shared concerns over a name change amid fundraising, especially since the foundation will likely change its own name to reflect its partner entity.  

The trustees voted 3-1on the name change, with Jane Wheeler opposing the motion and Doug Adams absent. Wheeler said she thought the board needed more time to investigate the idea and seek public opinion, and pointed out that board members were unable to answer questions about the potential cost of the rebrand.

With at least a year to roll out the changes, Dugan recommended the trustees come up with a new Flathead County Libraries logo and consider hosting an event to bring the community on board with the change.

Internally though, “the staff love working at a library and we’re so much more than what our name is,” Dugan said. “The important thing is they’re doing important work and they’re on board with whatever name you decide.”

Following the name change, the trustees voted to hire Dugan as the full-time library director, elevating her from the interim position she’s held since Ashlee Cummins’ departure last fall.

Board chair Dave Ingram made the motion, stating he was pleased with Dugan’s ability to manage her duties as interim director and lauding the smooth transition she’s overseen for the last few months. In addition, Ingram pointed out that forgoing an open search for a new director would save roughly $35,000 and a lengthy recruitment process.

Dugan served as the library’s office manager for several years under multiple directors, before stepping into the interim role. She has a degree in education as well as multiple teaching certificates, but is not a degreed librarian, making her the second director to oversee Flathead County’s library system without a professional degree in the field.

However, Flathead County Libraries will not forfeit state funding with Dugan’s hire, following a years-long campaign by the trustees to remove a Montana statute requiring libraries serving more than 25,000 residents to employ a director with a master’s degree in library science.

The hiring of Cummins, who did not have a professional degree, cost the library more than $35,000 in annual state funding, which was offset by a budgetary increase from the Flathead County commission.     

Responding to continued appeals by the local trustees to change the state rules, the Montana State Library (MSL) formed a working group to consider the issue, which ultimately recommended leaving the educational requirement for large libraries in place.

Ingram served on the working group, and opposed the recommendation, speaking against it in numerous public hearings, citing Cummins’ success running ImagineIF despite not having an advanced degree. In December, the MSL commission voted to remove the requirement. Cuthbertson, who also serves on the MSL commission, voted with the majority.

At the board meeting, Ingram told the trustees that library staff had shown great support for Dugan during her interim period, and she would be able to seamlessly continue in her work.

Stivers, the library advisor, told the board she was fully “Team Teri.”

“Opening the position up would put a lot of unneeded stress on the staff and the community,” she said. “Teri has really proven herself over the last few months and I just want to reassure folks who don’t work with her that she’s doing an incredible job and working incredibly hard.”

Dugan accepted the job offer, which will be made official with a three-year contract at next month’s board meeting.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity and appreciative, and I really appreciate having wonderful staff that support this,” she said.

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