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The Campbell County Public Library Board further distances itself from national standards during a recent meeting

Abhi Sharma

The Campbell County Public Library Board voted in favor of revised qualifications for a new library director after the board fired the previous director over disagreements on what books should be made available to youth.

The board voted 4-1 to fire longtime director Terri Lesley on July 28 over her refusal to remove or relocate books on sex education and LGBTQ issues for children and teens. Lesley maintained that removing those books would have amounted to censorship and opened herself and the library to lawsuits.

Since then, the board held a special meeting on Aug. 1 voting 3-2 to propose a change for the job requirements for the library director position – further distancing itself from the American Library Association (ALA). Notably, the board severed tieswith the ALA last year.

“I think the standard degree for librarians is a master's in library science. I think having a degree, any four-year degree…I don't understand how that would be an advantage. [They] wouldn't have some skills to run libraries,” board member Charlie Anderson said at the meeting. “What advantage do you see of not having a requirement that the person have a library degree?”

According to the Wyoming Library Association (WLA), the requirements for librarians vary in all 23 counties. Wyoming does not require that they be certified, as is the case in other states.

“Generally, some of the larger ones [library systems in the state] are going to require both a master's degree or equivalent plus library experience, or some combination that makes them qualified to run a larger library,” said Conrrado Saldivar, president of the WLA. “Terri [Lesley] obviously had her MLS plus 11 years as executive director…it's kind of hit and miss. Some of the smaller counties do like to grow their own so they generally hire within, and they will use library experience in place of the master's degree.”

The proposed change for the position would list a graduate degree as a “preferred” qualification. It would require an undergraduate degree in any field and at least nine years of relevant job experience. Degrees must be from an accredited college or university, however, the mention of the ALA was eliminated.

Saldivar mentioned that the library director in Fremont County does not have a master’s degree, but is working on getting the degree and has library experience. One sticking point for Saldivar is that the candidate should have library experience.

“I fear that the community would feel a negative outcome if they hired someone without, who may have a graduate degree but doesn't have any library experience whatsoever,” he said. “What will be best for Campbell County, or at least for the community members, especially those who are active library users is going to be to have someone who at least has significant years of library experience. Hopefully, that background includes people managing the financial management, and then also just the day-to-day interactions with patrons, the selection policy experience.”

Around 40 people attended the meeting in the George Amos building, which once housed the library decades ago. Attendees verbally sparred with one another at times during public comment, as well as with audible signs of approval and disapproval at what the board debated.

“We were told we're going to break the mold and we're going to be trendsetters. We had an award-winning library with a nationally recognized librarian in this county. We were the standard bearer for this state. Like a pigeon on a statue, you know what you did to it,” said meeting attendee Tex McBride. “Here we have this award-winning library and you people are saying we don't need a librarian. It's like y'all are trying to common core our library and bring it down to your intelligence level, and that's uncalled for. We should be looking to set the standard, not set trends, not break molds…you people are wanting to dumb it down because you're scared of a few books.”

Other comments encouraged the board to weigh the options in front of them with consideration to the content these books contain.

“I would hope that the Campbell County Library Board does continue to follow the mission of the library which includes the growth and development of the county and does take into consideration the negative effects based on research of sexually explicit books,” said meeting attendee Jeanne Anderson.

Board members also debated what field(s) of study would be good for a director to possess, as well as the necessary skills required to operate and manage a library. Those discussed included business and personnel management skills, in addition to knowledge of libraries. But the majority of the members wanted to limit influence from the ALA.

“The American Library Association has been on this march for quite some time [of political activism] and that's evidenced by how strongly all the librarians believe in their ideology,” said board member Sage Bear. “I would like to get away from a master's in library science.”

Bear added that she nor the other members that voted in favor of the proposed change were opposed to candidates with a library science background, but sought to expand the fields that may be considered for the library director position. She also indicated that Campbell County could help set a new trend and hire outside of those with formal credentials in library science.

“I think the manager of a library, the skills that they need is not librarianship necessarily, it’s business, it's how to manage your employees, it's how to write a budget, it's all those business things,” she said. “It is not something that's not overcome while learning any new job, you learn their policies and procedures. But I don't think you need to go as far as having a master's in librarianship to do that.”

Board member Chelsie Collier said that it would be difficult to find a candidate that has not been educated at a college or university without ALA ties. There are 59 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada that offer graduate level programs in library science or related fields.

“In my history of researching universities, I can't find a university that has a master's in library science degree that doesn't have an ALA association,” she said.

Anderson argued that this was an indication that ALA accreditation of these graduate programs is positive.

“If we can't find that there are graduate schools that aren't accredited by the ALA, that seems to imply that being accredited by the ALA is a good thing and a common thing in the industry and among libraries all across the country,” Anderson said.

Anderson and board member Darcy Lyon voted against the proposal. Lyon said she had spoken with some county employees about dropping the graduate-level education requirement and that they were opposed to it.

Any final changes in the job requirements for the position must be approved by the county commissioners. The board is currently working to appoint an interim director.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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