In the wake of library board upheaval, book removal advocates appear emboldened

Saying he’s the “tip of the spear for other dads in Flathead County,” Smith Valley School District board member Jim Riley spoke out in support of the actions some trustees are taking. ImagineIF Library to remove controversial LGBT-themed books from the shelves.

“The purpose of my attendance is to thank and support the efforts of board members who have made distinguishing toxic materials available to children a priority,” Riley said, kicking off a lengthy public comment period during of the July 21 board meeting. . “Having personally reviewed books such as ‘Lawn Boy’ and ‘Gender Queer,’ I am embarrassed for our culture and the direction that has allowed such material to be available in a public setting.”

The two books in question were the subject of substantive challenges brought before the council last fall. ‘Gender Queer’ was first challenged by Carmen Cuthbertson, whose recent appointment to the board sparked a backlash among library supporters – leading to the resignation of trustee Marsha Sultz from her post at the board of directors. In January, trustees voted unanimously to keep “Lawn Boy” in the collection while postponing a decision on “Gender Queer” indefinitely. Both books are part of the library’s adult collection.

Riley said in an email to The Beacon that he understands the board’s previous decisions were based on the policies they had to work with at the time. Several policies governing the collection of materials have been revised in recent months.

“We hope our voices will be heard and that they will respectfully make future decisions based on our input,” Riley said.

During the meeting, fellow community member Tom Finkel took issue with the disputed collection materials, saying they promoted an LGBTQ agenda in a public place.

“I’m very convinced that this whole LGBTQ+ and transgender push that’s been on our nation is a negative thing for kids,” Finkel said. “If you look at the data, the statistics, these children have a higher rate of mental problems. They have a higher problem rate, and that just shouldn’t be prescriptive. And we cannot make it prescriptive by putting this material in the public library.

Cover of the book “Gender Queer”, by Maia Kobabe.

Other members of the community who agreed with Riley and Finkel, offered donations to the library – the first time they had donated to a library for all – to help replace some funds recently lost by the library and its nonprofit fundraising arm, the ImagineIF Library Foundation. Last month, the Foundation was barred from participating in the Great Fish Community Challenge due to recent actions by the trustees. The annual fundraising challenge is 2% of the Library Foundation’s budget.

Several members of the public have questioned the integrity of Adam Tunnel, the Foundation’s executive director, who recently sent out a fundraising email calling the recent actions of trustees and county commissioners “misguided.” , while reiterating the Foundation’s support for ImagineIF.

Riley told The Beacon that he thought Tunnel and the media’s continued highlighting of the loss of funding was “punitive in nature.”

Still, the public comment period highlighted the growing political interest in the county library system. Riley is the founder of the political action committee Liberty or Lose, which supports Montana candidates with conservative values. One of the PAC’s 2022 action items includes electing community members to library boards, city council and law enforcement, and Riley’s wife, Samantha, has declared her intention. to apply for the open director seat vacated by Sultz.

“It’s a value issue, it’s a cultural issue,” said former Kalispell councilman Rod Kuntz, who leads a political advisory group with Riley. “It’s time to turn things around because so many of us haven’t been paying attention…it’s our castle doctrine for our community values.”

Asked about his sudden interest in the library, Riley said he had “been silent for too long during the erosion of our culture here locally”.

“I see us paying more attention to the changes we see in society and being active in protecting our families,” Riley said.

Only one audience member, John Mimnaugh, offered a perspective that went against the objections of the crowd.

“I want all the objectionable material and I want my daughter to have access to all of it,” Mimnaugh said. “Things that piss everyone off? The library should have it all.

Photo by Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

Following public comment, trustees continued a low-key, albeit prolonged, meeting as the four-member board considered budgets, updates from the library’s director and foundation, and a number of library policies. library.

The biggest change in public use of the library came with a revision to Policy 2011-06, Child Safety, where administrators raised the minimum age at which a child can be in the library unattended. of an adult between the ages of nine and 11.

Principal Ashley Cummins said the change was recommended by a staff librarian.

“She just thought that welcoming and encouraging unsupervised kids probably wasn’t in our best interest,” Cummins said. “We can absolutely accommodate them and encourage them to use the library, but we don’t want parents to just drop off their kids.”

James C. Tibbs