Credit: Courtesy of Montana State Library

In a 4-2 vote, the Montana State Library Commissioners agreed Wednesday to accept a new version of the state information system’s rebranded logo with a slightly altered color palette that designers noted includes colors from Montana’s state flag. 

The updated logo by the design firm Hoffman York includes the same geometric shape and prism imagery as an earlier version commissioners rejected in July. That decision came weeks after some members said it bore a resemblance to the rainbow in the LGBTQ Pride flag. The logo’s four triangles have now been changed to different shades of red, yellow, green and blue. 

The alterations were based on recommendations from a subcommittee of library staff and commissioners convened after the July meeting. 

Library staff and members of the public on Wednesday testified in favor of the updated logo, appealing to commissioners to move on and allow the rest of the long-awaited rebranding process to continue in the spirit of better educating Montanans about the breadth of the state library’s resources and work.  

“We’ve put a lot of programs in, kind of, limbo waiting for a decision to be made, as well as simple things like [printing] business cards so that we can do our jobs effectively across the state,” said Jennifer Birnel, director of the library’s Montana Memory Project. “The Commission voted for the spending of the money two years ago, and now we’re backtracking because we have different members on the commission and it’s very frustrating as a staff member to not be able to move forward with my work as a result.”

The majority of the current commission members have been appointed by Gov. Greg Gianforte since he was sworn into office in January 2021. 

No members of the public spoke against the logo during Wednesday’s meeting. The most vocal opposition came in a series of monologues from Commissioner Tammy Hall, the most recent Gianforte appointee, who originally took issue with the prior logo’s inclusion of rainbow colors. After the design’s unveiling at a June meeting, Hall said that color scheme could create a “firestorm” of public opposition and set the commission up for “a very unnecessary battle politically.” 

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In July, Hall recast her opposition as being about, among other things, the absence of book iconography in the library’s logo because books are “what says ‘library.’”

On Wednesday, Hall returned to the subject of colors, saying the new logo is “almost identical” to the first version and expressing disappointment that the subcommittee did not submit additional options in only white and blue colors, like the current logo, or in grayscale.

In response, State Library Director Jennie Stapp said library staff “could not get behind a monochromatic logo because it did not reflect what their intention was in the first place” with the incorporation of a prism, which breaks a beam of light into its component colors. “Our subcommittee moved on to continue with color in the logo,” Stapp said. 

“I see, after hearing from all the members of the staff in the public meetings, what their joy about it is,” Hall responded, referring to the original design. “But we defeated it. This commission defeated it 4-3.” 

Hall added that she is “sad and disappointed” to see the resubmission of such a similar logo, which she described as a “slap in the face” after the committee’s previous vote.

“To say, well, you defeated it 4-3 so we’ll change a couple of hues and we’ll bring it back again and wear you down,” Hall said. “We voted as an appointed commission, 4-3.”

After 30 minutes of discussion, commissioners Hall and Robyn Scribner voted against the logo. Commissioners Dalton Johnson, Kristen Kerr, Peggy Taylor and State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen voted in favor. 

“To say, well, you defeated it 4-3 so we’ll change a couple of hues and we’ll bring it back again and wear you down. We voted as an appointed commission, 4-3.”

state library commissioner tammy hall

Hoffman York, which has offices in Helena and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, originally received a $298,000 contract for the state library’s rebranding project in 2021, allocated from the library’s private trust. 

Roughly half of that contract has been paid thus far, according to library staff. The remainder is earmarked to cover the firm’s materials and marketing plan to deliver the library’s new brand to the public, library partners and lawmakers who will decide the library’s budget during the upcoming Legislature.

After the commission’s Wednesday vote, Hall and Arntzen attempted to halt any further payment to the firm for activities included in the brand rollout. Arntzen said she wants to better understand what will be included in the rest of the rebranding process, while Hall expressed concern with the total price tag and a rollout strategy she said would be better suited for “a big corporation” or “ads at the Superbowl.” 

“We are not a nonprofit. We are not a corporation. We change the logo on our website and that’s it,” Hall said. “I just believe that money that was set aside at this point for the rollout is a total waste of money.”

After another half-hour of discussion between Stapp and commissioners, the commission voted 5-1, with Johnson the lone opposing vote, that no further funds from the contract will be paid to Hoffman York at this time, but that library staff and Hoffman York may move forward with the newly adopted logo and other rebranding logistics using funds already allocated from the library’s trust. 

Commissioners agreed that deliberations about the rollout strategy and the remaining funding will continue at the next scheduled meeting on December 7.

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.