With election nearing, library grows endorsements for new building to 500


By Martin Kidston

The Missoula Public Library’s ballot committee has received more than 500 endorsements heading into the November election – a strong sign of support for the facility’s looming bond initative.

The Missoula County Office of Elections began sending out mail ballots last week to county voters, who will decide over the next month whether to bond the construction of a new public library.

Scott Stearns, chair of Yes for Missoula Library,  which launched its campaign for a new facility back in May, said the list of endorsers includes 22 small business owners, 30 teachers and professors, 50 retirees and 10 local nonprofit leaders.

It also includes the Missoula Central Labor Council, Missoula Downtown Association, Montana Women Vote, and the Missoula County Democrats, as well as realtors, designers and students, he said.

“We’re excited to see such broad and diverse support for updating and expanding this essential community resource,” said Stearns. “Our library is completely maxed out in terms of its capacity for kids’ reading programs, library collections and community meeting space.”

At more than 42 years old, the current 42,000 square-foot facility was constructed at a time before the home computer to serve a county population of just 60,000 people.

The advance of technology, an aging facility and the county’s growing population, now at more than 120,000 people, has rendered the library both structurally and functionally obsolete, supporters say.

“Investing in an up-to-date, expanded library will help our kids learn to read and benefit our entire community” Stearns said.

In August, the Missoula County Commissioners approved a 20-year, $30 million bond for the November ballot. If passed, the bond will enable the library to triple its capacity for computers and Wi-Fi, expand digital collections and provide access to video production and 3D printing.

If approved by voters, the new facility would stand on property just east of the current library. Plans call for a four-story building providing up to 121,000 square feet.

The new building would also house three Missoula nonprofits, including the Children’s Museum Missoula, Missoula Community Access Television, and the University of Montana’s SpectrUM Discovery Area.

“We have the busiest library in the state with more than 700,000 visits annually, yet our library is only one-third the size it should be,” said Aimee McQuilkin, president of the Missoula Downtown Association. “Billings and Bozeman have updated their libraries, and those communities have seen significant economic activity as a result.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com