The Montana State Library is at the center of an unexpected controversy after some commissioners expressed opposition to a suggested new logo, claiming it closely resembled the LGBTQ Pride flag during their June 15 meeting and potentially stalling its anticipated August rollout.
The new logo’s design had been in the works for about one year and cost nearly $300,000, according to a Montana Free Press report Monday — all of which came from private, not taxpayer money — from the Montana State Library Trust. The design was created by the Milwaukee-based company Hoffman York, which has offices in Helena and works with the Montana Department of Tourism and Visit Montana.
Tammy Hall, who was appointed to the library commission by Gov. Greg Gianforte in March, was the first to take issue with the logo while also stating she did not find it personally offensive.
“I think a rainbow as to what we’re doing in a library is going to set off a firestorm,” she said at the June 15 meeting. “I think there are two things you can say today that set off a firestorm in the area of information … one is a rainbow, and one of them is misinformation. Those are very political, explosive weapons.”
Addie Palin, who presented the logo to commissioners on behalf of Hoffman York, said during the last year, the design team spoke to multiple commissioners, state library employees, and government members when drafting the logo.
“And people really liked it, the way that it provided clarity, represented how the State Library’s information helps people make a change in their lives, how the prism, like the library, is a vehicle for distributing information in a new and different way,” she told the commissioners.
Before the June 15 meeting, the new logo seemed like a sure thing and was scheduled to be officially rolled out in August.
“(Hoffman York’s) been working with us now for going on a year, going through the process of engaging with commissioners and staff and other stakeholders … The logo has been established and determined at this point,” said Montana State Librarian Jennie Stapp.
After pushback from commissioners, the board decided to hold public comment on the matter in early July, after which the commissioners will vote on whether to adopt the logo.
Hall warned the commission about wading into a “very unnecessary battle politically” before the upcoming legislative session where it will be asking for more funding.
Libraries in Montana and across the country have become hotbeds for debates over censorship and gender identity. For months, the local library board in Kalispell debated banning two books containing LGBTQ themes. And the American Library Association said in a November news release that there had been a dramatic uptick in challenges to books that include LGBTQ perspectives — a debate that has found its way to the Montana State Library Commission.
Like Hall, commissioner Robyn Scribner, also appointed by Gianforte, took issue with the logo but insisted her objections were not tied to her personal opinion of the Pride flag. But she said she believed someone could see a resemblance to the Pride flag in the logo.
“And I’m a regular Montanan, so I believe it could be seen that way,” she said.
Commissioner Kristin Kerr, another Gianforte appointee, said she understood how one could see a rainbow in the prism but did not see the connection to the Pride flag.
“I don’t mind the colors of the prism. Because to me, they don’t even represent a Pride flag,” she said. “It’s much different than what the flag represents … I don’t go there in my mind.”
State Library Commission Chair Kenning Arlitsch called comparing the logo to the Pride flag a “stretch.”
“A Pride flag has 11 colors in it. I just looked it up. And we’re talking about four colors here,” he said.
Bruce Newell, who resigned from the Montana State Library Commission in February to advocate for the Kalispell ImagineIF Library, said the debate about the new logo is beyond the realm of importance for the commission.
“I’m afraid that any of our public institutions can be sidetracked over … inconsequential issues and be distracted and be prevented from doing what they are tasked to do by the constitution, and by the state’s laws and by the people’s expectations and needs,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think we should worry about big stuff, which is, do we have enough money to have good public libraries … ?”
Newell currently serves on the Montana Library Association, which is a statewide organization of more than 900 retired librarians, trustees and friends of libraries that promotes public libraries in the state.
Stu Wilson, a steering member of the Flathead County Library Alliance and on the board of the Trust for Montana Libraries, the foundation that supports state libraries, said there is overlap between the conversation at the state library and what he has seen happen in Kalispell. (The Trust for Montana Libraries is a separate entity from the Montana State Library Trust.)
“I think it’s a big concern locally, state level, and nationally that our society is becoming more polarized, and we are seeing that in the library world,” he said.
He said the LGBTQ issues brought up at these meetings are political wedge issues meant to sow division in communities.
“A lot of focus on the extreme right is on the LGBTQ … I think it is the extreme right trying to politicize libraries and divide communities,” he said.
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