Kalispell Library receives bullet-riddled books in donation bin, three staff quit – Daily Montanan

Three library counselors resigned from Kalispell Library after staff found books shot with what police believe was a .22 caliber rifle in a book donation bin, the library manager said this week .

The staff resignations follow other recent high-profile controversies at the library, including one over books with LGBTQ themes, said Ashley Cummins, executive director of Flathead County’s ImagineIF Library System.

ImagineIF has offices in Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Marion.

Last week the Flathead beacon reported the Kalispell library discovered that five different books had been taken down in two separate incidents in early August.

Staff did not receive any direct threats and police determined the books were likely used as practice targets and then given away in error, Cummins said in an interview with the Daily Montanan on Tuesday.

However, she said the books were riddled with holes and raised concerns among employees about implied bullying.

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“We’re in a pretty emotionally charged environment, and there’s been a lot of public comment from both sides of the issue, and our staff are dealing with that every day and taking the brunt of those conversations,” Cummins said. . “Between recent events, they felt like it was an escalation from the current situation, and that’s where they had to draw a line.”

Political conflict over book bans has spread across the United States, and libraries have been at the forefront of a culture war against censorship. Last year, the American Library Association described “an unprecedented volume of challenges in the fall of 2021.”

Montana has also had other library controversies.

A debate in Flathead County reached the governor’s office earlier this year when the appointment of the new director of the ImagineIF Library did not meet state standards. At the time, the state librarian said Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras called for meetings on the issue but ultimately failed to act.

Cummins said she knew other libraries were also experiencing disputes, but the incident that prompted resignations at Kalispell could be in its own category.

“I think the balls were a bit exceptional,” she said.

Citing an incident report dated Aug. 3, Kalispell Police Department Investigations Captain Ryan Bartholomew said the books, all fiction, do not appear to be related or political in nature.

He also said that none of them were on the library’s list of banned or controversial titles. Cummins said the shooting books included a random David Baldacci mystery, and Bartholomew said at least one other title was part of the Jason Bourne series.

If someone had called and threatened people in the library and then dropped off books, their actions could be considered bullying, Bartholomew said. (He did not personally investigate the matter but answered questions from an officer who was not in the office this week.)

“But there should be a bunch of other factors,” Bartholomew said.

At the library, those who quit included staff with up to six or seven years of experience there, Cummins said. The library has 36 staff in all, she says, and she knows they’re stressed.

“I really try to shelter my staff as much as possible,” Cummins said. “I can encourage them to focus on the good work that we are doing in the community and to work to hopefully resolve the issues that led to these events, and repair some relationships, and hope that they will not have not have to deal with these types of things going forward.

Going forward, Cummins said the library is adding security cameras and increasing security protocols at all of its branches. The library system is also evaluating facilities for necessary security upgrades, she said, and ideally she would like to hire a full-time security officer.

She said libraries are in the spotlight across the country and the conflict comes with the territory of providing free and open access to information. But she said the staff stood firm in their professional dedication to their mission and ensured a safe space for library staff and users.

This year, September 18-24 is Banned Books Week, and Cummins has confirmed that shooting books does not change any library activity.

“We always try to celebrate Banned Books Week, and we hope this year to use it as an educational opportunity for people who are unfamiliar with the history of books that have been banned or challenged and who might be surprised by what ‘they will find. outside.’

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