Brief History of the Montana Library Association

The Beginning

Montana librarians and others interested in libraries met in Missoula on May 17, 1906. Plans were formulated to establish a state library organization, which the group decided would be of great benefit to those working in libraries as well as to the people of the state. Miss Gertrude Buckhous of Missoula presided at that temporary meeting. A committee was named to draft a constitution. Granville Stuart of Butte was elected President.
The group met again in Butte on December 26 and 27, 1906, and adopted a constitution, becoming the Montana State Library Association.
From the beginning, the Association was active in pursuing and promoting legislation to improve library service in Montana. One of the Association’s first acts was to adopt a resolution favoring the presentation of a bill to the Legislature asking that the tax for public libraries be increased from 1 to 2 mills.
The sixth meeting of the Association was held in 1911 in Great Falls in December (“annual” meetings did not begin until 1912). There were not more than a dozen in attendance. Miss Clara Baldwin of the Minnesota State Library Commission was guest speaker. (The Association allowed $30.00 from the treasury toward her expenses). The group visited the studio of Charles M. Russell, where the librarians were greeted by the artist and Mrs. Russell.
Through the efforts of the Association, a bill authorizing the establishment of county libraries was enacted by the Montana Legislature in 1915. For many years thereafter, the Association worked to encourage counties to establish libraries. Librarians also began to lobby for legislation authorizing the creation of a State Library Commission. They finally succeeded in getting such a bill passed in 1929, and the Montana State Library Extension Commission (SLEC) was established, although no appropriation was granted. The members of the first Commission were: Miss M. Gertrude Buckhous, Chair (Librarian, University of Montana), Miss Elizabeth Ireland (State Superintendent of Public Instruction), Miss Clara Main, Lewistown (appointed by the Governor). For a number of years after, the Association subsidized the library development efforts of the State Library Commission with Association funds.

The Depression Years

The 20th annual meeting was held at the Parmly Billings Memorial Library on October 21 and 22, 1930. There were at least 32 in attendance. It was believed to be the largest conference attendance in the history of the Association. A committee was appointed to look into financing the employment of an expert for a year to create interest and help organize county libraries. The group felt this was needed because, although the county library law was passed in 1915, only 13 of the 58 counties had so far taken advantage of its provisions.
During the depression years, the economic problems facing libraries of the state were discussed at annual meetings and suggestions were made as to means of eliminating nonessentials. The Association pursued legislation concerning regional libraries, certification of librarians, and funding of the SLEC. Association members hoped that co-sponsorship (with the SLEC) of a statewide WPA library project would spur library development in Montana. The Association drafted a “Five Point Plan for Better and More Widespread Library Service for Montana.” The plan included the following five points:

  • An adequate appropriate for the SLEC (which is without funds) to provide a trained director to organize, direct, and coordinate, and extend library service in Montana.
  • State aid for books for the Travelling Library administered by the SLEC (and utilization of federal aid).
  • Enactment of a regional library law, to make possible consolidation of two or more counties to support a library to serve the area.
  • Enactment of a certification law to professionalize all librarians in the state and to provide trained librarians for all positions requiring professional services.
  • Cooperation among Montana libraries in making their book resources easily and quickly available.

However, the Association soon became disillusioned with the WPA project and withdrew its sponsorship because it was not being directed by trained people.
In 1938, the Pacific Northwest Library Association met for the first time in joint conference with the Montana Library Association at Glacier Park. In 1939, to help keep librarians of the state in touch with each other, the Association decided to issue a periodical library newsletter – the “MSLA Bulletin” – giving notices of meetings, book news, and other information of interest to librarians of the state.

The War Years

In 1941, the Association took on the task of compiling and funding the publication of a complete directory of libraries in the state.
A cedar gavel (a gift of Hertzberg Craftsman) was presented to the Association by Miss Margaret Fulmer, librarian of the Parmly Billings Memorial Library. The gavel was made from “historical wood” furnished by Mr. O.D. O’Donnell, President of the Board of Trustees of the Parmly Billings Memorial Library. The gavel was first used to open the 29th annual meeting of the Association in the Kalispell Carnegie Library on May 4, 1942. This gavel is still used today to call to order the annual meetings of the Association.
The 30th annual meeting was held in Butte on May 3-4, 1943. There were 24 registrants (out of 44 active members). The meeting had originally been scheduled for Hardin but was changed to Butte due to travel problems and rationing. Program titles reflected concerns of the war era: “Outstanding Books about the War,” “Organization of an Army Camp Library,” “The Army Takes Over the Campus,” and “The Place of Latin America in the New World Order.”
At the 1944 annual meeting, the Association endorsed the resolution adopted by the South Dakota Library Association to request ALA to make the necessary changes which would permit each state having a library association to have at least one vote on the ALA Council. It was reported that 47 of the 48 states had some agency for state library extension and all but one – Montana – had some appropriation for their state library agency. There was a discussion of federal aid – should it be accepted? Montana librarians were not in favor of federal control of libraries; however, there was consensus that if there was anything to be gained in getting aid, the Association should look into it.
A Governor’s Committee on Reorganization recommended that, since no budget had ever been provided for it, the SLEC should be abolished. However, the Association rallied its forces, retained the SLEC, and secured a small appropriation. Soon after, publication of the “MSLA Bulletin” was transferred to SLEC and renamed “Montana Libraries.”

The Fifties

By the 1950s, the Board of Directors decided it needed to draw up a manual of procedure. The Board also decided that the Association could no longer operate without a budget and found it necessary to write a manual of conference procedures. The Association supported and worked on regional library planning and the establishment of regional libraries in Montana. Also the machinery was set in motion to allow formation of sections (divisions) in response to a petition from school libraries and library instructors. The Association continued to support SLEC financially by approving an expenditure to help the SLEC print “Montana Libraries.”
There was a traveling conference and library survey in 1952. Two different groups visited libraries in Conrad, Shelby, Chester, Havre, Malta, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Billings, Forsyth, Miles City, Terry, Glendive, and Circle – ending up in Sidney for the conference.
The Association continued to lobby for an adequate budget for SLEC, to seek a suitable appropriation from the Montana Legislature to reimburse Seattle Public Library for giving service to the blind in Montana, and to support SLEC legislation proposing a move for its headquarters from Missoula to Helena. There were 82 in attendance at the 40th conference in Missoula (1953). Nine high school librarians attended, the largest number yet to attend a conference.

The Sixties

During the 1960s, the Trustees and Friends Division and the Public Library Division were established. The College & Research Libraries Division also formed, later becoming the Academic and Special Libraries Division (ASLD). The Association set a long-term goal of seeking a Governor’s Conference on Libraries. On January 8, 1966, the Board of Directors met for the first time at the new Montana State Library headquarters in Helena.
The Association established an awards and honors program in the 1960s to recognize those who served, supported, and promoted libraries in Montana. The slate of awards and honors has expanded over the years.
A tri-state conference with Wyoming and Idaho was held in Jackson, Wyoming in 1967. Several times during the 1970s there were attempts to undertake another tri-state conference with Wyoming and Idaho. These efforts did not succeed.
The Library Development Committee focused on rules and regulations associated with the Library Services and Construction Act. Montana’s Plan for Library Development was one of the first, if not the first, plans for a state involving all types of libraries. The committee also worked on standards for public libraries.
In the 1960s, the Association’s National Library Week (NLW) Committee was made permanent. Montana was nationally recognized several times in the Grolier Award competition as one of the state library associations with the best program for NLW. In 1967, Mrs. Leo Graybill became the first woman to serve as Chair of the NLW Committee. The Association continued to sponsor statewide NLW efforts through the 1970s.

The Seventies

In the 1970s, the Association began working for legislation establishing state aid for libraries. The Association hired Margaret (Maggie) Davis of Helena in 1975 as the Association’s first paid professional lobbyist.
Also during the 1970s, the Association undertook the necessary steps to become incorporated. Articles of Incorporation were adopted which established a Board of Directors consisting of President, Past President, Vice President, and Treasurer. The Association was incorporated as “Montana Library Association, Inc.” The bylaws were shortly amended to make division chairs members of the Board.
Montana’s first Governor’s Conference on Libraries was held October 18, 1971. The Association was a sponsor, along with Montana State Library and Montana Instructional Media Association (MIMA). The theme was “Expanding Horizons of Library Service.”
The Association’s Continuing Education Committee was established in the 1970s and the Academic and Special Libraries Division worked on the organization of a Union List of Serials. The Union List of Montana Serials was finally produced in 1981, using LSCA funds.
In 1978, the School Library Media Division (SLMD) was created from the consolidation of the Montana Association of School Libraries and the Montana Instructional Media Association. An Ad Hoc Committee on Children and Youth Services was established.

The Eighties

During the 1980s, the Board of Directors adopted recommendations of the Library Development Committee to restructure the Board and adopt other mechanisms to make the Association more responsive to the members. Interest groups were established. Offline was organized as an ad hoc special interest group concerned with computer technology in libraries.
Mabel Brewer (Flathead County Library Director) became the fifth Montanan to receive an Honorary Life Membership in the Pacific Northwest Library Association for outstanding contributions to library service.
The Board of Directors allocated funds to send Trustees and Friends Division member Lawrence Maxwell to the American Library Trustee Association workshop in Minneapolis. Partly as a result, the Trustees and Friends Division produced a new Montana Trustee’s Manual. The Association also funded the printing of the standards produced by the Ad Hoc committee for the Revision of Montana Public Library Standards and supported the revision in school library standards.
Long-time Treasurer Helen Anderson resigned during the 1980s. The position of Treasurer was abolished and a paid position of “financial secretary” was established.
Also during the 1980s, the Association was successful in enacting legislation expanding the size of the State Library Commission (SLC), altering its make up, and appropriating sufficient funds to provide direct state aid grants to all public libraries.
Montana’s ALA Councilor Glenda Bell won both the grand prize and a second prize in the 1983 Huron Fund Sweepstakes which provided transportation, registration, and hotel rooms for both the annual conference in Los Angeles and Midwinter in San Francisco. (This was a fundraising effort to aid ALA’s 50 East Huron Fund).
In 1983, the Association adopted a new logo and affiliated with the Mountain Plains Library Association (MPLA). A joint conference was held with MPLA in Billings in 1989.

Looking Toward the Next Century

In 1990, Offline sponsored a retreat at Fairmont Hot Springs, featuring programs about modems, bulletin board systems, electronic mail, computer conferencing, distance learning, and classroom applications. The SLMD presented 18 programs for school librarians at the Montana Education Association convention in 1990.
After careful study, the Board of Directors voted in 1992 to dissolve the Continuing Education Fund. An ad hoc committee was appointed to review the Association’s legislative and lobbying processes.
A Long Range Planning Task Force was also appointed. The charge to the task force was: develop a mission statement and basic goals for the Association and develop an organizational structure to carry out the evolving mission and goals of the Association. In 1993, the Board of Directors adopted the mission statement and goals proposed by the task force. After 18 months of work, the Long Range Planning Task Force recommendations were approved by the Board of Directors in 1994. In summary, the recommended changes dealt with the size of the Board, the process of nomination for MLA office, the establishment of a Council, the duties of the Administrative Assistant (formerly the Financial Secretary), the merger of the Trustees and Friends Division into the Public Library Division, the establishment of a Conference Planning Committee, and the reorganization of other committees.