HELENA - The Montana State Library Commission has voted to reject a proposed new logo for the library, after disagreements about the direction they wanted to go.
During a special meeting Tuesday, library staff said they were supportive of the new image the proposed design could create for their organization. However, some of the library’s commissioners said the logo got too far away from traditional symbols.
“I do not see ‘library’ in the design,” said Commissioner Tammy Hall. “I’ve shared this with, I’d say, probably close to 100 people, and the number-one comment is ‘It doesn’t say library.’”
Commissioners voted 4-3 against adopting the new logo, which was designed by the firm Hoffman York and unveiled earlier this year.
Unlike the State Library’s current logo, which features a pair of books forming an S, the new design was based on the idea of a prism. It showed rays of color – red, yellow, green and blue – as a symbol of taking information and distributing it in a new way.
In a memo, state librarian Jennie Stapp and her staff said they began a rebranding process in December 2020, because of “a lack of familiarity and understanding about the work of the State Library among the public and key stakeholders.”
The library has a wide variety of functions, including assisting local libraries around Montana, providing state geographic and natural resource information, preserving state agency publications and running the Montana Talking Book Library. It operates the Montana Cadastral service for land ownership data, as well as the state COVID-19 dashboard.
Hoffman York gathered information on the library and its work, then began putting together proposed design ideas. The final logo proposal was presented to staff in May, then to the full commission in June.
As reported by the Montana Free Press last month, some commissioners raised questions about the design when it was released, saying it resembled the LGBTQ Pride flag and could lead to political controversy.
On Tuesday, those opposed to the logo expressed other concerns, including that the symbolism wasn’t clear enough to the public, that more people should have been involved with the process and that it might not fit in with a broader plan for rebranding state agencies.
“My vote today is not at all about the staff,” said Hall. “It has nothing to do with colors, it has nothing to do with the prism; I’d like to make that clear. I’m sorry that became such a big issue.”
Stapp said they didn’t want a logo that was focused on books, because their work now goes far beyond that. In fact, she said they looked at the possibility of changing their name, but Hoffman York told them “Montana State Library” remained the best option.
“Ultimately, we felt excited by the idea of retaining the name ‘Library” – even though it doesn’t truly reflect the nature of our work – because the nature of libraries’ work is changing, and we’re excited to sort of be on the leading edge of what people can and should expect from 21st-century library services,” said Stapp.
But Commissioner Robyn Scribner said, while she appreciated the symbolism that went into the logo proposal, she didn’t think it was going to be understandable for most people.
“Even though we are not providing books, we are still the State Library – and ‘library’ historically is a book,” she said.
Commission chair Kenning Arlitsch said he understood the concerns about symbolism, but he supported moving forward with the logo.
“We are not books anymore, but yet we have such a hard time defining and symbolizing what we are, and that’s why this is so hard,” he said. “That’s why I think we have to trust the professionals to design this. We’re never going to come up with an acceptable logo on our own as a commission.”
Before their vote, the commission took public comment. All of those who spoke Tuesday were State Library staff members in support of the logo proposal.
“I can’t think of a better representation of what the State Library is than a prism: a single point where information enters and exits as a full spectrum of services and resources that truly create a greater state of knowledge,” said Sharon Hardwick.
The majority of written public comment was also supportive of the design.
Arlitsch said the commission will now work with library staff to determine how to move forward after this decision.
So far, the library has spent about $130,000 on the rebranding project. They have about $160,000 remaining in their allotted budget, which was also meant to include spending for rolling out and publicizing the new logo.
The money for the rebranding came from private donations to the Montana State Library Trust.