Credit: Photo-illustration by Melissa McFarlin / MTFP

In 1990, a children’s book on the shelf of a small public library in Purcell, Oklahoma, began to cause a stir. It told the illustrated story of a young girl’s experience discovering that her family differs from some of her peers’ families. As its title made unmistakably clear, “Heather Has Two Mommies.”

Susan Gregory was working as the regional coordinator for central Oklahoma’s library system at the time, and recalls the reaction the book’s debut elicited from parts of the Purcell community. “Heather Has Two Mommies” quickly became one of the most challenged books in the country, with parents, faith leaders and other critics decrying it as part of a broad agenda to normalize same-sex marriage. In fact, as the author of the first picture book to depict such a family, Lesléa Newman couldn’t find a publisher in 1988, and ultimately crowdsourced $4,000 to help get it printed privately. In Purcell, Gregory heard whispers of a local congregation being encouraged to check out the book from the library and not return it.

“They were sort of empowered by what they were being told by these national televangelists, to go into their public libraries and specifically look for this book and protest the book or, if need be, just take it out and never bring it back,” Gregory told Montana Free Press recently. “It was a major national issue.”

Bozeman Public Library Director Susan Gregory, photographed at the Bozeman library in 2011: “There always have been book challenges. What is new is this level of rage and accusation. It’s vicious. There’s a level of viciousness in there.” Credit: Nick Wolcott / Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Today, Gregory is director of the Bozeman Public Library, where she oversees a collection of 155,000 titles, including two copies of “Heather Has Two Mommies.” Her role heading the institution, and advocating for community libraries, put her again in the crossfire of a culture clash this month as the seven-member Montana State Library Commission severed its ties with the American Library Association over a political disagreement. As a firm believer in an apolitical ethic of libraries, and an opponent of any person or group dictating what a community has access to read, Gregory spoke against the decision.

The conflict went public last month when commissioner Tom Burnett made a motion to withdraw the state library’s membership in the national association, citing a recently resurfaced 2022 tweet by ALA President Emily Drabinski describing herself as a “Marxist lesbian.” Burnett argued that aligning the state with an organization headed by a self-proclaimed Marxist violated his oath to uphold the Montana Constitution. The motion passed 5-1, with Brian Rossmann — a June appointee representing the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education — as the sole dissenter. Addressing the commission prior to the vote, Gregory described the withdrawal as “a really sad time for all of us.”


She wasn’t alone in that assessment. Several librarians from around the state spoke against the withdrawal, explaining to the commission that Drabinski’s one-year position is largely ceremonial, and that the ALA is an invaluable financial and policy resource for Montana’s library community, offering model language for routine library practices like collections management and awarding grants for staff at small, budget-constrained libraries to expand their professional training and networks

On the other side, a chorus of conservative voices accused the ALA of pushing a dangerous social agenda. Those voices incorporated their opposition to Marxism with their longstanding objection to the ALA’s support for books some conservatives view as sexually explicit and inappropriate for children.

Former commission chair Bruce Newell, who was appointed to the commission in 2014 by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and resigned in February 2022 to focus on local library efforts in the Flathead Valley, told MTFP that the state was “foolish to turn away from the ALA” and the resources it offered over “something so banal.” He and other librarians familiar with the association speculated that critics of ALA were looking for a justification to distance Montana from the organization, and finally found one in the social media feed of an internally elected leader they stress has little, if any, direct control over ALA’s mission.

“The commission leaving the ALA made kind of a good partisan dog-whistle statement,” Newell said. “But it’s kind of like not shopping at Safeway because they carry Frosted Flakes and you don’t like Frosted Flakes. Well, ignore the Frosted Flakes and go and buy the eggplant.”

Commissioner Burnett did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, and MTFP emails to the other four commissioners appointed between June 2021 and June 2023 by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte went unanswered. Asked for a statement from the governor regarding his appointees’ support for the ALA withdrawal, Gianforte’s office referred MTFP back to the commission.

The commission’s vote signaled that the controversies fueling pitched school board races and fierce debates about state education policy have spilled over into Montana’s libraries. Some Montanans of deep conviction see their traditional values and Christian identities slamming headlong into principles of intellectual freedom and fair representation that librarians carry in their marrow. The widespread politicization of concepts such as diversity and equity has complicated the situation, and new laws passed this spring are further contributing to confusion and division.

That conservatives have set their sights on libraries and schools alike in their fight against anything ostensibly “woke” makes sense, given the parallels between the two institutions. Both consider information and intellectual freedom as core to their respective missions, and in Montana, both share similar structures. Like public schools, libraries are governed by local boards, which work to integrate their communities’ interests with inspiration and advice from industry collectives such as the ALA and the Montana Library Association. Local control, promoted by librarians as evidence of their accountability and integrity, has given critics of certain materials a platform to air their grievances. Outside support, regarded by librarians as a tool for navigating adversity and safeguarding the interests of all library patrons, has become critics’ latest target.

“There always have been book challenges. What is new is this level of rage and accusation. It’s vicious. There’s a level of viciousness in there.”

Bozeman Public Library Director Susan Gregory

Recalling her experience with “Heather Has Two Mommies,” Gregory remembers being struck by the feedback she received from Purcell’s city manager. She’d warned him he might receive messages condemning the book, and he’d replied that he considered his service in the Korean War a defense of the rights that give Americans the freedom to read what they want. 

Gregory says she’s confident such voices of support are still active today, if perhaps unaware of the current clash. But she says that something about the familiar conflict does feel distinctly different this time around.

“There always have been book challenges,” Gregory says. “What is new is this level of rage and accusation. It’s vicious. There’s a level of viciousness in there.”


In the days following the state library commission’s withdrawal, both the ALA and the Montana Library Association issued lengthy responses lamenting the development and reaffirming their commitment to support libraries throughout the state. The ALA seized the opportunity to highlight the scope of its work at the national and state levels, noting that in the past two years alone it has awarded a total of $218,000 to 23 Montana libraries for projects ranging from COVID-19 relief efforts to digital literacy workshops. It also emphasized its role in lobbying for federal library funding, claiming partial credit for the $1.4 million the Montana State Library has received from government grants since 2019.

“Despite the decision in Montana this week” — ALA’s only direct reference to the commission’s vote — “ALA remains committed to providing essential support, resources, and opportunities for every library and library worker in every state and territory across the nation to help them better serve their communities,” the letter read. 


The reaction from the Montana Library Association’s executive board, in contrast, met the withdrawl vote head-on. MLA stated that the commission’s decision “runs counter” to the association’s mission and “undermines the shared goals of Montana libraries.” MLA board members vowed to continue upholding the principles of literacy and information access “regardless of the decisions made by the State Library Commission because we believe that they are fundamentally American and fundamentally Montanan.”

Meanwhile, a minority of right-wing GOP lawmakers embraced the development. Twenty-one members of the Legislature’s Freedom Caucus issued a statement encouraging the Montana Library Association to take a cue from the commission and “join the growing movement” by ending its affiliation with the ALA as well. The letter cited LGBTQ Pride events in libraries and unsubstantiated claims of librarians distributing “critical race theory” and “highly sexualized content” to bolster the call by national conservative hardliners for more states to follow Montana’s example. 

Indeed, in the weeks since the Montana commission’s withdrawal, Republican lawmakers in Illinois and Wyoming have urged their own state libraries to withdraw from the ALA. Such calls to action have been amplified by actor-turned-author Kirk Cameron’s allegations of ALA interference in his efforts to organize a Christian story event in public libraries nationwide Aug. 5, which, according to scattered media reports, attracted hundreds of attendees at libraries across the country. Cameron’s claims prompted U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Mike Braun of Indiana to pen a letter June 28 to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. In it, the senators accused the ALA of “blatant discrimination” against Cameron and faith-based publisher Brave Books while the association simultaneously advocates for LGBTQ-themed events in libraries.

“Public libraries must remain open to the public, and their availability should not be subject to the political whims of the ALA,” Rubio and his colleagues wrote. “While disagreements pertaining to ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ in public libraries will assuredly continue, Brave Books deserves the same opportunity to host and organize events in public libraries as other groups, including those that the ALA has taken an aggressive role promoting.”

The letter requested an investigation into the ALA and demanded that federal funding for the organization be “immediately halted” until an investigation is completed.

The ALA did not respond to MTFP requests for an interview with President Emily Drabinski or Executive Director Tracie Hall. But Drabinski did issue a statement to MTFP last month in response to the commission’s vote, emphasizing the role that “tens of thousands of members like me” have played in supporting the ALA’s work over the past 150 years.

“This includes the people of the great state of Montana,” Drabinski said. “Despite the Montana State Library Commission’s decision, my priority as ALA President remains helping the organization continue its important work of providing essential support, resources, and opportunities for every library and library worker in every state and territory across the nation to help them better serve their communities.”

In a subsequent interview with NBC News, Drabinski reflected on the critical reaction to her tweet and its impact on the broader library community, characterizing the fallout as “regrettable.” She said she “didn’t anticipate” targeted attacks on her personal beliefs being “used as a bludgeon against library workers across the country.” 

“My own personal political viewpoint is a target right now, but my personal agenda doesn’t drive the association,” Drabinski told NBC News. “It’s the agenda of all of us together.”

As Cameron continues to level allegations of discrimination against the ALA, members and allies of LGBTQ communities are fighting their own battles to preserve access and representation in the same library spaces. On June 1, the conservative political advocacy group CatholicVote launched its second nationwide “Hide the Pride” campaign, encouraging parents to “empty” their public libraries of “progressive sex- and gender-related content aimed at children.” The group offered instructions for parents to check out books from libraries’ Pride month displays and leave letters explaining their intent to keep the books until “the library agrees to remove the inappropriate content from the shelves” — an echo of Gregory’s recollection of critics’ strategies against “Heather Has Two Mommies” in the 1990s.


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CatholicVote also supplied a list of dozens of targeted book titles, primarily featuring LGBTQ content, among them author/cartoonist Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” currently the most challenged book in America. Critics have repeatedly pointed to particular images in the graphic-novel-style memoir, including one depicting oral sex, to argue against the book’s suitability for young adults. Defenders counter that determining the merit of a literary work based on a single passage cuts against the ethical and legal fabric of intellectual freedom.

Libraries have found themselves swept up in disputes over LGBTQ performances, as well. In June, a Montana judge put a temporary freeze on a new state law barring drag shows in public spaces after plaintiffs in a legal challenge argued that House Bill 359 has had a “chilling” effect on LGBTQ-oriented events and expression broadly. The plaintiffs include Adria Jawort, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member and transgender woman who alleged in a declaration to the court that officials in Butte-Silver Bow County canceled her scheduled June 2 lecture on Indigenous and Two-Spirit history at the Butte Public Library because, in the language of the county’s cancellation email, it presented “too much of a risk to have a trans-person in the library.” Jawort also argued that she does not “dress in ‘drag’” when delivering such presentations, but appears “as myself.” In several Facebook posts, the library attributed the cancellation to HB 359 and emphasized that the decision was based on legal advice from the Butte-Silver Bow county attorney’s office.

“To be clear,” Library Director Stef Johnson wrote in one of those posts, “the library did not make this decision. We were told to cancel the lecture.”

Butte-Silver Bow County Attorney Eileen Joyce declined to comment to MTFP in light of the ongoing lawsuit. Johnson confirmed that the event had been in the works “for months,” and characterized the cancellation as “embarrassing.” In subsequent Facebook posts, the library has vowed to “remain dedicated to promoting inclusivity, diversity, and equal opportunities for all” despite the “recent challenges.”

While the Montana State Library Commission pinned its separation from the ALA, at least publicly,  solely on Drabinski’s self-described Marxism, support for the decision from conservative parents and lawmakers is inextricably linked to a broader politicization of library events and collections. Speaking with MTFP June 30, Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay, echoed conservative concerns about the ALA’s role in “instigating” the types of books that fueled his sponsorship of Montana’s new obscenity law, which drew staunch opposition from the Montana Library Association before a series of amendments softened the bill’s potential impact on libraries, schools and museums.

“They’re trying to ruin a generation and they’re doing it,” said Phalen, a member of the state Legislature’s Freedom Caucus, of the ALA. “That’s their goal, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

“They’re trying to ruin a generation and they’re doing it. That’s [the American Library Association’s] goal, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay

MLA President Kelly Reisig and other voices from within Montana’s library community are increasingly pushing back against such allegations. Where conservatives see an orchestrated agenda to foist inappropriate content on children through libraries and schools, many librarians perceive a coordinated conservative effort to sideline culturally representative and inclusive books through grassroots activism and state-level policy. The effect, Reisig told MTFP, has been an undermining of community trust that is “absolutely just shaking up the whole mission of libraries.” 

“For librarians, that’s like the first thing you begin to learn, is how to reach out to the community, find out what their needs are,” Reisig said, attributing her understanding to a conference she attended early in her career with the help of an ALA grant. “It’s not a matter of you build the library and they all show up. How do we really become a partner in the community? How do we really address the needs of this community? And if no one trusts or very few trust us, how do we get our work done?”


Over the past few years, Flathead County’s ImagineIF Library has become a striking in-state example of the nation’s current culture wars. Tensions over local opposition to “Gender Queer” and other LGBTQ-themed books fed a string of resignations among library leaders and staff. Books riddled with bullet holes appeared in the library’s donation bin. After a difficult candidate search, ImagineIF hired a new director who didn’t meet state standards, losing its state certification and roughly $35,000 in annual funding in the process. Ultimately, the situation attracted the attention this spring of the New Yorker magazine, which published a dispatch documenting the years of turnover and community division.

The developments at ImagineIF were precisely what prompted Bruce Newell’s resignation last year from the Montana State Library Commission. When he first joined the state library staff as a reference librarian in the 1980s, Newell had quickly developed a deep admiration for the Flathead Valley’s library scene. Despite a “crappy building, lousy funding” and too few staff, he told MTFP, staffers were “constantly punching above their weight,” forging strong partnerships with schools, colleges and local businesses and taking steps to improve the library’s physical infrastructure.

“Trust is the secret sauce,” Newell recalled telling his fellow commissioners years later about the key to ImagineIF’s efforts. “And it led to success built upon success.”

In Newell’s opinion, two years of the valley’s ideological battles “essentially broke one of the best public libraries I’ve ever known about,” leaving him “stunned and frightened by how quickly something that good could be destroyed.” Newell, who now lives in Helena, stepped away from the commission in order to focus on helping members of the Kalispell community restore that trust, saying of the library’s staff, “These are my friends.”

MTFP reached out for comment to two ImagineIF trustees who joined the board during the tumult and have themselves been critical of certain books: Carmen Cuthbertson, one of the five state commissioners who voted in favor of the ALA withdrawal, and David Ingram, a vocal proponent of the withdrawal. Neither responded to requests for an interview.

Communities across America are contending with similar clashes. In Louisiana, a conservative dark money group has systematically reshaped state oversight of libraries in recent years, supporting local citizen challenges to specific books and prompting some librarians to move targeted titles to age-restricted sections in a bid for compromise. When library associations and the ACLU sought to overturn a new law barring sexually explicit materials from schools in Missouri this spring, Republican lawmakers responded with a proposal to strip library funding from the state’s budget, a move that was ultimately reversed in the Missouri Senate.

Efforts to limit minors’ exposure to allegedly obscene material in Mississippi have also spilled over into the realm of digital collections. Passage of a new law similar to an early version of Montana’s 2023 so-called obscenity bill resulted last month in some Mississippi libraries blocking on-site access to ebook and audiobook platforms like Hoopla and Overdrive for library patrons under 18. According to the literary website Book Riot, the law raises a series of logistical and legal issues that make compliance challenging and potentially litigious for libraries.

The ALA, which collects national data on book challenges in libraries and schools, reports that the number of such challenges has skyrocketed from 156 in 2020 to 1,269 last year — the highest number recorded by the association in two decades. That data further indicates that 58% of those challenges were issued against materials in public schools, while 42% focused on materials in public libraries. The most challenged book title in 2022, according to the ALA, was “Gender Queer,” followed by the young-adult memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” about growing up as a queer Black man in New Jersey. 

Librarians who spoke with MTFP consider the idea of removing or limiting access to contested books as antithetical to their mission. According to Reisig, libraries have clear policies about how patrons can challenge certain titles — policies that typically call for identifying a replacement title to ensure that a particular viewpoint, voice or identity continues to be reflected in the library’s collection. Librarians “by nature” want to find compromise, Reisig said. But in today’s politically charged atmosphere, she continued, there’s seldom, if ever, a desire on the part of critics to preserve the viewpoint of a contested book.

“What we’re really talking about is censoring whole groups of people and their culture and their history and what makes them who they are,” Reisig said. “That’s the saddest and scariest part of all of this.”

Cheryl Tusken doesn’t dispute that there’s common ground to be found in respecting other people’s beliefs. However, as a Bozeman parent and an early leader of Montana’s self-styled parental rights movement, Tusken said she believes that tolerance in public spaces is currently weighted in favor of a progressive worldview — a view she sees as contrary to her family’s Christian values.

“What we’re really talking about is censoring whole groups of people and their culture and their history and what makes them who they are. That’s the saddest and scariest part of all of this.”

Montana Library Association President Kelly Reisig

“The community standard has been changing significantly in the last 10 or 15 years, especially in the LGBT area,” Tusken said. “They’ve been very active, even where Bozeman City Hall is flying a progressive trans flag. It’s very much everywhere that you see, but we’re not giving equal tolerance to the other side that maybe doesn’t want to see that all the time.”

State Library Commissioner Tammy Hall articulated a similar sentiment last week in Gallatin Gateway during a town hall moderated by the right-wing think tank America First Policy Institute. The Gianforte appointee, who voted in favor of withdrawing from the ALA, said she was told early in her tenure that commissioners were expected to “leave your values outside the door.”

“I said, ‘I’m a believer in Jesus Christ. He is my savior. I do not leave that outside the door like an old shirt,’” Hall told the town hall crowd. She also quipped that when Gianforte appointed her, “I said, ‘Who goes to libraries anymore besides pedophiles and homeless?’ I was wrong, very wrong.”

During the 2023 Legislature, Tusken was a regular fixture in public testimony on bills related to contested materials in public schools and libraries. Her parental rights work has largely focused on the Bozeman school district, where she’s advocated for the removal of materials from school libraries and classrooms. Those efforts have left her with a deep distrust of the ALA, which she says is actively pushing Marxist ideas and queer literature through book lists and model policies.

“The community standard has been changing significantly in the last 10 or 15 years, especially in the LGBT area. They’ve been very active, even where Bozeman City Hall is flying a progressive trans flag. It’s very much everywhere that you see, but we’re not giving equal tolerance to the other side that maybe doesn’t want to see that all the time.”

Bozeman parent Cheryl Tusken

So far, Tusken’s efforts have yet to spill over into the Bozeman Public Library. As a homeschooling parent, she said, she and her children used to be frequent patrons, particularly during her kids’ elementary and middle-school years. But, she says, she began to have concerns about the library’s annual Pride month displays, specifically their proximity to the library’s children’s section. She said her family hasn’t been back since the COVID-19 shutdowns of early 2020.

“All of that LGBT stuff started popping up so strongly in all the books,” Tusken said, “and they’re alienating a large segment of their community by doing that.”

Tusken insists that what she and other parental rights advocates seek is not an outright ban on any particular books. Instead, she wants a more rigorous approach to ensuring that parents can identify books they find objectionable and decide for themselves if they’re suitable for children — perhaps moving LGBTQ-themed materials to a separate area, she said, or signaling their content with a sticker. Books with more graphic content, such as “Gender Queer,” she added, should be restricted for anyone under 18.

Tusken’s bid for compromise would be a nonstarters for many librarians. Lewis and Clark County Public Library’s Matt Beckstrom, who also serves as Montana’s representative on the ALA council, said such actions fundamentally contradict the profession’s core belief in making collections easy to access and use. Furthermore, restricting certain titles could raise thorny legal issues that have already been adjudicated in America in favor of intellectual freedom.

“If you can show the intent was not to make the collection more accessible or easier to use but to make it harder for certain people to find and make it difficult for other people to use, your intent is to censor,” Beckstrom said.


Over the past four months, Mary James has logged a 26% overall drop in check-out rates at the George McCone Memorial County Library in Circle, south of Wolf Point. Part of that, the 20-year bookseller turned library director speculated, could be due to the fact that the town’s been “tearing up all the water mains,” making access to the library building tricky. But, James added, check-outs of kids’ fiction books are up 33%. And kids’ nonfiction? Up a whopping 62%.

James has no doubt that those increases are a result of an ongoing reorganization and refurbishment project in the children’s section, made possible by grant funding from the American Library Association. During her four-year tenure as director, James said, the library has received $16,000 from the ALA and its frequent collaborator, the Association of Small and Rural Libraries. The funding has allowed James to purchase civics books and music resources, and will help her obtain new materials like graphic novels and audiobooks that can meet the needs of kids with reading disabilities. She added that she plans to visit local classrooms this fall and ask students for input on how to spend whatever funds remain.

“I said, ‘Who goes to libraries anymore besides pedophiles and homeless?’ I was wrong, very wrong.”

State Library Commissioner Tammy Hall

While James maintains an ALA membership for her own library (the typical annual fee for an individual librarian’s membership is $155), the loss of such opportunities for small non-member libraries under the auspices of the state library’s membership was a top concern cited by librarians ahead of the commission’s withdrawal vote last month. But Reisig and others stressed to commissioners that the benefits of ALA membership are not solely financial, pointing to the organization’s congressional lobbying efforts on behalf of libraries and its ability to provide legally vetted guidance on a host of emerging issues, such as serving patrons with disabilities and managing appeals to remove certain titles. James said the state’s withdrawal from the ALA creates “an unnecessary difficulty” for smaller libraries in Montana.

“It’s going to take effort and organization to maintain the same level of service,” James said. “The state got I don’t know how many millions of dollars in grants from ALA just to help fund programs at the state level. That’s not even, I don’t think, considering the special grants that people like me have applied for and got.”

In the last two years alone, 23 Montana libraries have collectively received nearly a quarter-million dollars in grants from the ALA.

Montana State Librarian Jennie Stapp told MTFP that, from a practical standpoint, access to such resources won’t vanish. State and local library staff are still free to attend ALA conferences and webinars, and Stapp has already fielded calls from librarians outside of Montana inquiring about alternatives to the ALA, in case their states follow Montana’s lead. One option she’s referred them to is the Association of Small and Rural Libraries, itself an affiliate of the ALA. For in-state librarians, state library staff continue to provide consultation to assist community librarians with training and strategic planning.

In short, Stapp said she believes the tight-knit nature and shared values of the broader library community mean the ALA will continue to have a presence in Montana, even in the absence of state membership. 

“Where libraries in Montana and the American Library Association can find common ground is in that fundamental core value of intellectual freedom,” Stapp said. “And if we can speak about that as the primary function of the library, then I do think there is a role for ALA to play.”

Only one of the Montana State Library Commission’s seven members responded to MTFP’s requests for comment: state Superintendent Elsie Arntzen. In an interview, Arntzen reiterated her stance that withdrawing from the ALA is in line with her sworn oath to uphold the Montana Constitution. She equated the situation to the firestorm that engulfed the National School Boards Association last year. In requesting federal assistance to address rising threats to educators over pandemic mask mandates, LGBTQ-themed materials and critical race theory, the organization likened certain activists to domestic terrorists, prompting Arntzen to publicly call for the Montana School Boards Association to sever ties with the national organization, which it did. 

“If these associations that Montana has depended upon for so long start polarizing and being political, then it’s time for Montana to protect, defend [and] support Montana as the Constitution states,” Arntzen said. “And I did that in my vote.”

Arntzen noted that during the commission’s deliberations last month, she suggested revisiting the state’s ALA membership after President Drabinski’s term expires in July 2024. Asked whether Drabinski’s LGBTQ identity had any bearing on her vote to withdraw from the ALA, Arntzen said her decision was based “fully on the Marxist” portion of Drabinski’s tweet.

“We are a republic,” Arntzen said. “We are not led by Marxist views.”

Beckstrom and other critics of the commission’s decision have repeatedly argued that the ALA presidency — a one-year elected position — is largely ceremonial, that nothing in Drabinski’s tweet violated any state or federal law, and that her influence over ALA’s mission and its policies is limited at best. Beckstrom himself is one of 186 members of the organization’s elected council, which serves as the ALA’s governing body and determines its policies. The ALA is also led by a 12-member executive board whose members hail from libraries of various sizes throughout the country.

As a member of that governance structure, Beckstrom insists that the ALA is not actively pushing any LGBTQ agenda. What the organization and librarians across the country have been doing, he said, is promoting books that help people understand and learn about the LGBTQ community, its history and its experiences — echoing a broad belief among librarians, as summed up by Stapp, that libraries should be “a mirror” of their respective communities.

“That’s pushing a human right to have our beliefs and our feelings reflected in who we are and be able to research them and get information about them,” Beckstrom said. “It’s not like the ALA’s sitting there and their mission statement is, ‘Goal No. 1: Make America gay.’ That’s not what they’re doing. They’re just trying to give people the right to do what they do with the information they want.”

“It’s not like the ALA’s sitting there and their mission statement is, ‘Goal No. 1: Make America gay.’ That’s not what they’re doing now. They’re just trying to give people the right to do what they do with the information they want.”

Matt Beckstrom, Librarian, Lewis and Clark County Public Library

Nearly every source MTFP interviewed indicated that communication will be key in resolving the disputes that fueled Montana’s separation from a long-standing source of support. But passions run deep on both sides of the divide, and in the wake of Montana’s withdrawal from the ALA, library leaders around the state are concerned about their colleagues in smaller communities feeling increasingly isolated. At the Bozeman Public Library, Gregory is trying to remain hopeful about her staff’s ability to maintain a community dialogue that’s so far kept their library free from significant controversy, even as she accepts the reality of what fellow librarians elsewhere are grappling with.

“There’s a lot of fear out there. Fear of being overlooked, fear of not being heard,” she said. “One of the things that we’re trying to do here in Bozeman is make sure that when people have concerns, we take the time to listen to them and try to help them understand, ‘We hear you,’ and then put a lot of emphasis on the phrase ‘fair and balanced.’ Balanced means we’re going to have material in this library, all different kinds of opinions, and there’ll be something here that offends everybody. But that’s OK because we don’t tell people what to think or believe. They can do that for themselves.”


Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...