Opinion by Jeni Dodd
A policy change enacted last fall at the Great Falls Public Library that
has implications for the parental rights of minor library patrons seems to
have flown under the radar for many Great Falls parents.
The library evidently had a policy in place until September 2022 that
those under the age of 18 required a parent or guardian’s signature
before they could get a library card.
But in September 2022, the library board unanimously voted for an
“updated library card policy that does not require parental notification”
The policy details are found in the September 2022 Director’s Report:
“IMPROVING LIBRARY CARD ACCESS: As discussed at the last
Board meeting, the Library would like to lower the barriers to Library
use. Later in the agenda, the Board will be voting on a change to Library
Card policy to allow persons age 14 – 17 to obtain cards without
requiring a parent signature. Your Board packet also contains
information about a proposed project to partner with local school
districts to provide students with Great Falls Public Library digital
resource access Library cards.” (Emphasis added)
Yet the GFPL website still states:
“How do I get a card if I am under the age of 18?
Bring your parent or legal guardian down to the Great Falls Public
Library at 301 2 Avenue North and stop at the first floor checkout desk.
Have your parent or legal guardian fill out the library card application.
Have your parent or legal guardian show us a picture id (driver’s license,
military id …) and proof of their current address. If their current address
isn’t on their id, they can just bring in a piece of mail or a bill that does
show their address.” Get a Library Card | Great Falls, MT Public Library
Why has the library not changed the information on their website to
reflect the policy change the library board voted in? The latest library
policy manual available online, dated November 2021, as well as the
library card application form, also still state that a parent or guardian
must sign for applicants under the age of 18. gfpl_policy_manual_-_all_sections_combined_1.pdf
It’s been eight months since this policy change. Are they hiding the fact
that they changed this policy from parents?
It might be relevant at this time to also point out that library policy cites
Montana law and the Montana Constitution as legal authority to prohibit
disclosure of library patron records, including those of minors, to anyone
without the patron’s permission. Now with this library card policy
change, that means parents additionally might never find out their child
has a library card.
Regarding the proposed partnerships with local school districts
discussed at the same library board meeting, The Electric covered that in
an article. One quote from that piece stands out.
“The library would not provide information to schools about individual
student use of resources but would provide district or school statistical
information about the overall use of resources, according to library
staff.” Library proposes digital library card numbers for area students | The Electric (theelectricgf.com)
So it appears parents are once again left out of the loop with Great Falls
Public Library policy, since the library won’t forward individual student
records to the school districts. Did any of the local school districts
approve partnering with the library? I have yet to find that answer.
Unlike local “official” media, who much of the time appear to report as
if they are parroting a spoon-fed narrative, I am committed to dig for the
information that they fail to provide in their reporting.
So why didn’t The Electric include in their article the aforementioned
public library card policy change allowing 14-17 year olds to obtain
library cards without a parent or guardian’s signature, which was
approved at the same meeting as the proposed school district
partnerships The Electric covered? Did The Electric think it was not
Seems like Library Director McIntyre dropped the ball by failing to
ensure the library policy manual, the website and the library card
application are updated—tasks which I would guess are an integral part
of her job.
Perhaps she should spend less time “observing” at the
Cascade County Elections Office, as several volunteers there have
reported to me she’s been doing, and get back to the job she was hired to