Newly proposed Montana State Library logo
The Montana State Library Commission voted Tuesday against the agency’s proposed logo weeks after commissioners expressed opposition to the new design, arguing the colorful prism resembled the LGBTQ Pride flag.
During the special meeting, commissioners voted four to three against the agency’s proposed logo, with one of the “no” votes being from Commissioner and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen. State Librarian Jennie Stapp said that the commission has spent $130,000 of the $292,000 allotted for the branding development and rollout.
At a meeting last month, commissioners had said the new logo looked too much like the Pride flag. Tuesday, those who opposed it said they wanted a clearer connection to books as well as a design that was in line with other rebranding led by the Governor’s Office.
Commissioner Kristin Kerr, a “no” vote, said she didn’t want to start from square one and didn’t think doing so would be necessary.
“I think that this can be a springboard going forward,” she said. “I think what we need to do is take what we have and revisit with the Department of Administration to see if we can glean anything from how their rebranding might affect any part of that logo.”
The new logo had support from the State Library staff as outlined in the commission’s Brand Memo. At the meeting, five staff members and one member of the public spoke in favor of the logo during public comment, and several in the meeting’s comment section expressed disappointment after the vote.
“It seems like a waste of time and money to go through this process all over again,” wrote staff member Star Bradley. “Thank you to the commissioners who voted for this logo.”
The funds for this project come from the state library’s trust, which Stapp explained is made up of private donations and were approved in November 2020. Stapp said the project started in earnest in December 2020 after years of internal discussions around a potential rebrand.
Commissioner Tamara Hall, who voted against the new logo, expressed opposition to the design at the Commission’s June 15 meeting when it was first unveiled.
“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.”
Hall said Tuesday that her opposition to the design had nothing to do with the colors or the prism, but was in part due to the lack of books included in the logo.
“It has nothing to do with colors. It has nothing to do with the prism. I’d like to make that clear. I’m sorry that that became such a big issue,” she said.
Hall agreed she didn’t want to repeat the process leading up to the redesign, but she preferred to work with the Gianforte administration in its statewide rebranding efforts.
“I would like to start with getting input from the state, because we are an agency within the state, and find out what that rebranding is going to look like,” Hall said. “How do we fit into that rebranding and not go out on our own completely?”
Arntzen also voted against the new logo. She said she appreciated the staff comments in support of the new logo but didn’t hear anything from the rest of the public.
State Library Commission Chair and Commissioner of Higher Education Appointee Kenning Arlitsch pointed out that there were written comments submitted prior to the meeting about the logo.
The majority of written comments submitted before the meeting were in support of the new logo, with three of the 14 comments against the new logo’s design.
The five staff members who spoke in favor of the logo during the meeting talked about how the prism was an appropriate symbol for the library.
“I think that a prism is the perfect representation of how the State Library transforms information in useful ways,” said Montana State Library Data Coordinator Rebekah Kamp. “In a world where we’re inundated with information, the library organizes that data so that Montanans can find meaning in it.”
Human Resources Generalist for the State Library Sharon Hardwick said the library is “more than a stack of books.”
“We are resources, information directories, maps, technology, government information, natural heritage information and education.”
She went on to list other services the library offers, including ebooks, talking books, cadastral (a land parcel search system), LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging technology that generates 3-D maps used for floodplain mapping), photos, draft records and yearbooks.
“We provide training, data, standards, consultations, guidance, customer support and leadership to individuals of all ages, backgrounds, gender, ethnicity and political affiliation, without question or pause,” she said.
Commissioner Robyn Scribner, who voted against the proposed logo, said her issue with the logo was that the design didn’t include books. She recognized that the services the library provides go beyond books but that the library “historically is a book.”
Commission Chair Arlitsch said Scribner’s comments encapsulated a struggle that he’s had his entire career as a professional librarian.
“We’re not books anymore, but yet we have such a hard time defining and symbolizing what we are, and that’s why this is so hard and that’s why I think we have to trust the professionals to design this.
“I know that this is what people still think. I fight this every day. Books are just not what we do anymore. They are such a small percentage of what we do anymore. But I really appreciate how you laid out the problem very clearly. This is the big struggle.”
Arntzen also asked about what led to the amount of staff comments.
“What I would like to see though, is more understanding of how this process occurred within the staff’s realm through the leadership team,” she said.
Stapp said that most staff on the leadership team was interviewed by Hoffman York, the Milwaukee based Advertising Agency that designed the logo.
She said the actual process of looking at the creative design, including an iterative design process that she described as taking images and ideas like the open gate and the prism that were ultimately folded into the final design, involved herself and two other staff members.
After the vote, Arntzen suggested a sub-committee be formed to select a new logo with members from both staff and the commission.
She explained that she would like to have someone from the commission working with the state librarian and the staff to “really hone down exactly that next step forward, and then bring it toward the commission for a vote with a little bit more understanding of the process of the rollout, the budget being set and everything.”
“And I believe that is what I heard when the commission heard all the individuals from the library talk about the logo and the process that is there.”
“That misrepresents what we were saying,” Staff member Cara Orban commented in the chat in response to Arntzen.
Artzen also said she wants a “healing process moving forward.” The Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 3.
“Adversity is always going to be there in any role that we have. We have an odd number in our commission. But I believe that we can succeed moving forward in a blended model and understanding what staff’s requests are, as well as moving with the Commission’s.”
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