Imagine that! — The new library is just like the old library except better

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When Flathead Valley Community College moved from ancient buildings to their new campus there was a lot of complaining and grumpiness.

The lack of installed pencil sharpeners became a major crisis. The new heating and cooling system was a source of serious irritation. In spite of the beautiful setting, the wonderful new buildings, the customized work spaces, everyone seemed distressed and super critical. Sure, grades were in boxes somewhere and computers and phones were not yet totally reliable but it took a few days to sort out the real problem. Change itself turned out to be that problem, something that is difficult for almost everyone even when that change is positive.

ImagineIF Libraries is suffering from this problem. Also, there is a surplus of bad information.

A concern for taxpayer dollars tops the list. This turns out to be a non-issue as no taxpayer dollars are being spent on this reimagining project. All of the $40,000 comes from a grant from the Library Foundation and all are private dollars. Another voiced concern is that quiet study spaces will disappear. This also is not part of the plan. You will still be able to find a quiet and private table where you can pursue research, plug in your computer, spread out the pieces of your term paper. The same comfortable chairs, quiet, good lighting and up-to-date magazines and newspapers will still be available. In the teen section, comfy chairs will still welcome readers in another quiet corner.

If you have been in the Kalispell library recently you will notice that major changes have been occurring for some time. The wooden counter that separated staff from users has been replaced by a couple of small kiosks. Instead of being distanced from customers, librarians are circulating, looking for people with questions and needing assistance. Lots of businesses have implemented this open plan, feeling it is more friendly and functional. I like it. I think you will.

Half a dozen small stations are located throughout the library where you can check out or reserve your library materials. The self-checkout process is easy and quick, no glitches. A couple of days ago I watched a 5-year-old, all by himself, take about two minutes to check out a couple of movies and some books.

Other changes have been in process for some time. LOUD at the Library, now in its fourth year, is the big Foundation fundraiser. This event challenged the premise that libraries must always be quiet and solemn places where old ladies went around with a finger to their lips and a frown shushing exuberant children. If you have missed it, you have missed one of the most interesting and fun events in the Flathead Valley and a welcome relief to winter doldrums; great music, good food, live auctions of unique and very old library furniture and interesting raffles, and lots of happy noise — again, none of this using taxpayer dollars and in fact saving taxpayer dollars by supplementing library income.

Much fun has been made of the proposed library workshop where you can learn to build a chicken coop. However if you read just a bit between the lines and check out the library schedule for the next three months you will find this represents the first of many workshops intended to provide practical information to residents of the Flathead Valley and is just one more way ImagineIF is making its facilities and expertise available to the valley.

I am a big fan of libraries. Wherever I go, I always check out the libraries. I have visited at least a hundred in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Canada, all over Montana, and probably a few places I’ve forgotten. I’ve visited big fancy multistory libraries in the cities, full of chrome, dripping with lights, where just the art on the walls is enough to keep you occupied for the afternoon. I’ve visited little hole-in-the-walls with two staff members and few concessions to the age of technology.

Always I come home to this wonderful library in the Flathead Valley, and I am so impressed and so grateful for its existence.

I already knew the staff at ImagineIF Libraries smiled a lot and never responded to my queries impatiently. I already knew they had or could find most of the books I was looking for. I already knew they had a wonderful audio collection and taught free and easy-to-understand classes every month on all sorts of new technology — how to use your iPad¸ how to download books, etc.

However since I started to volunteer once a week, I discovered the ImagineIF Children’s Department hosts 50 to 60 pre-schoolers (older kids also in the summertime) and their mothers or fathers every Tuesday and every Wednesday for two to three hours. The children listen to three stories and then do crafts related to the stories they heard that day.

My volunteer hours speed by as I watch and listen to these weekly sessions. The patience and devotion of the parents, the joy of the children, the interchange between kids and staff, the pure love of books and their contents always leaves me feeling optimistic and positive about the world.

I also discovered there is a similar program for babies on Thursday. And there is a wonderful program in the summer to encourage kids and teens to do more reading. Statistics on that program defy the oft-quoted premise that kids don’t read anymore.

And Just a week ago I found out the library manages a group of volunteers that take books to the homebound.

Flathead County Library System or ImagineIF Libraries, whatever it is called, we are incredibly lucky to have this library, this staff, these ideas, this energy and enthusiasm and creative genius in the Flathead Valley. And it all happens for a minuscule amount of taxpayer dollars. You will not find anything anyplace where you will get more pure value.

Lorraine Measure is a resident of Bigfork.

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