Innovative programming, community outreach and a “visionary” strategic plan have earned ImagineIF Libraries the Montana Library Association’s Library of the Year award.
Local library staff members accepted the award Friday during the state association’s annual awards presentation.
Just over a year ago the Flathead County Library System rebranded itself as ImagineIF Libraries to better reflect the diversity of what today’s libraries offer.
ImagineIF libraries in Kalispell, Bigfork, Columbia Falls and Marion began offering experience-based programs to teach patrons new skills that included everything from making home-cleaning products and chicken coops to simple hands-on construction projects.
“We’ve been working toward reinventing ourselves for several years,” ImagineIF Director Kim Crowley said. “We’re very proud of getting this award. There are a lot of really good libraries in Montana, and we’ve been fortunate to bounce ideas off other libraries.”
Crowley credited the library staff for putting ImagineIF in the state spotlight.
“This is all about our staff; they have done just an amazing job,” Crowley said. “They’re passionate about what they do. They’re engaged in their communities and out getting to know people in the community.”
The new culture at ImagineIF Libraries highlights the energy, fun and possibility that can be found in the library, she added.
Participation in ImagineIF’s programs has increased 32.4 percent systemwide on a year-to-date comparison over the previous year. Wi-Fi use is up 22 percent and the total number of digital-content checkouts is up 17 percent.
Dillon Tabish of Kalispell nominated ImagineIF for the state award, pointing out in his nomination letter that the hands-on activities offered by the local libraries “are not common in public libraries across the country, which is why ImagineIF Libraries truly stands out.
“The passionate staff has taken an ambitious leap of faith here, trying something new and constantly trying to engage the community,” Tabish wrote.
Susie Burch, a member of the ImagineIF Library Foundation board of directors, also supported the nomination, saying “library facility and budget constraints in the Flathead have not prevented ImagineIF from designing spaces that vibrate with potential.”
Burch credited ImagineIF’s “visionary strategic plan” as giving structure and direction to the “exploration, connections and creation happening in our libraries.” She cited engaging programs and innovative outreach, noting the community’s positive response to the ImagineIF framework.
Sarah McHugh, Montana State Library director of Statewide Resources, wrote a letter in support of the nomination, pointing out how ImagineIF’s focus on programs and outreach have resulted in “vibrant partnerships between the ImagineIF libraries and their local communities.
“ImagineIF Libraries shine as they continually strive to better serve their local communities, their region and their state,” McHugh wrote.
April Vomfell, an ImagineIF public services librarian, said it has been exciting to be part of the transformation of the libraries.
“Part of the fun is always having something new and creative happening all around us,” Vomfell said. “Even working here every day, you never know what you’ll see when you walk through the door.
“One of the best things I’ve heard since we became ImagineIF was spoken by a young girl who pulled her mom into the children’s area while saying, ‘Come with me, I’ll show you the magic,’” Vomfell recalled. “We even designed a staff T-shirt with those words on the back. It says so much about how walking into ImagineIF can open up exciting new worlds, especially for children.”
ImagineIF Circulation Services Manager Patty Jones pointed out that library patrons are staying longer at the library. That’s especially true in the children’s department.
“In the children’s area, we hear comments all the time about how it’s so much more comfortable,” Jones said. “You don’t have to be quiet any more, and it’s a great place to socialize and encourage exploration.”
ImagineIF Youth Services Librarian Martha Furman and Becca Johnson, a library adviser in the children’s area, gave a presentation at the Montana Library Association conference this week, detailing how to transform children’s library services with play and interactive programs.
Crowley gave a presentation about how to develop an engaged staff, and ImagineIF Outreach and Programming Librarian Megan Glidden also spoke at the state conference about the hands-on programming.
“We’ve had great response from the audiences,” Crowley said.
“Everyone is excited about what we’re doing.”
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.