Library association opposes proposal ending master’s degree requirement

By: - November 17, 2023 4:00 pm

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You may not need a graduate degree to be a library director in Montana’s larger cities — and library advocates think that idea hurts their work.

A group lobbying for library interests in the state adopted a resolution opposing a state library commission proposal to end the requirement for library directors in Montana to have master’s degrees.

The Montana Library Association, a statewide advocacy group for policies and resources for libraries and library professionals, said in its resolution removing the requirement for master’s degrees in library or information science “has denigrated the standing of Montana’s library professionals and put the future of library services in Montana at risk.”

The state library commission took a 5-2 vote in October on a proposal to end the master’s degree requirement for library directors in the state’s largest libraries as reported by Montana Free Press.

The commission administers grants, sets library standards for the state and certifies librarians. Currently, Kalispell’s ImagineIF library is the only one in the state that is out of compliance with the current education standards.

The library association has had a long partnership with the commission and expressed concern over the rule change, with Association President Kelly Reisig saying in a statement the organization is “deeply concerned that the Commission has lost its way.”

“We passed this resolution to make clear our belief that common ground exists, and that MLA remains committed to the health and longevity of library services in Montana,” Reisig said in a statement.

The motion to change the requirement was made by commissioner Tammy Hall, who said it should be up to localities to decide what requirements they want to see in a library director.

ImagineIF in Kalispell, profiled by the New Yorker earlier this year as a case study in the culture war surrounding libraries, lost state accreditation — and $35,000 — because its director, Ashley Cummins, did not have a graduate degree. She left the position in October after serving since March of 2022, and office administrator Teri Dugan is serving as interim director, according to the Flathead Beacon.

An ImagineIF task force had voted to drop the requirements for a master’s degree for the position at the library after struggling to recruit talent to the Flathead amid disputes among librarians, the board of trustees and the public over banning books with LGBTQ+ themes and issues with staff retention. Cummins was the third hire for director since 2021.

The Montana Library Association’s resolution referenced the “challenges” faced by the ImagineIF Library, saying they “underscore the necessity of professional development and the need for library directors to have the skills and knowledge required to lead their institutions effectively.”

This resolution is one of 20 the association has passed since 2007, and the only to directly call out the actions of the state library commission.

The resolution calls for ​​stakeholders, including the commission, to “engage in a constructive and open dialogue to find common ground, address concerns, and work together to ensure the continued success of Montana’s libraries.”

The public comment period regarding the proposed changes to the Public Library Standards are open until 12 p.m. on Dec. 1.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.