New Missoula Public Library on target to open in June

Crews work on the new Missoula Public Library early Tuesday morning. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Three years ago, Missoula County voters expressed support for a new public library. Today, the building is rising rapidly and on schedule to open by mid-2020.

“We’re well within budget and right on schedule,” said Honore Bray, director of the Missoula Public Library. “We’ll have a soft opening in June, and are planning a grand opening celebration on July 15.” 

The $37.6 million building is being paid for mostly through a $30 million general obligation bond, approved by voters in 2016 by a 57 percent to 42 percent margin.  Another $6 million is being raised through a capital campaign, and the rest through partners and other fundraising efforts. 

Karl Olson, director of the Foundation for the Missoula Public Library, has taken a confident and disciplined approach to fundraising, and it’s paying off.

“We’ve raised more than $5 million and have a little under $500,000 to go,” he said. “We’ve invested a lot in planning and training, and we have been at it now for a few years.” 

The 105,000-square-foot, four-story facility is being built just east of the current library at 301 E. Main St., and is designed to bring lots of light into the building while taking into account the surrounding landscape. 

The first floor, above a basement parking garage, will be a “market space,” defined as “an information-based electronic exchange environment,” with floor-to-ceiling glass.  The second floor will host a children’s museum and discovery area with interactive, educational displays. The third floor will contain the library’s more traditional fiction and nonfiction collections and study area, and the fourth floor will include a commons area, community room, and event space that can hold 250 people. There will also be an outside viewing deck.

Although the state-of-the-art, high-tech facility is designed to meet “21st century needs,” as Bray puts it, it will retain the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s intentions when his Junto Club, a “society for mutual improvement,” established the first library in the United States in Philadelphia in 1731, to serve as a community meeting space open to all, regardless of social or economic status, to gather, socialize and learn.   

“The library welcomes everyone,” Bray said. “It provides a safe, comfortable place for people to get together, discuss and visit about issues they’re interested in, share knowledge, solve problems, exchange ideas and engage in good discussion.” 

Or, as Olson succinctly put it: “People, space and gatherings.”   

The new library will also host Missoula Community Access Television, the spectrUM Discovery Area, the Families First Children’s Museum and a café. 

“When our current library opened in 1974, we were leaders in childhood literacy programs,” Olson said. “We still are, but now we are looking at ‘literacy’ as a plural ‘literacies,’ including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), digital literacy, media, arts and cultural literacy.” 

What used to be “passive,” such as books and posters, will “come to life,” Olson said. For example, instead of just having a cookbook collection, there will also be a demonstration kitchen where people can participate in free cooking classes. 

“We’re going to have a community space where local nonprofits can set up displays and have people there to connect with others,” Bray said, “and have more face-to-face interactions, rather than just hanging up displays and posters.”

Bray also said their “library of things” will grow “exponentially.” If people need a kitchen gadget, for example, that they only need to use once, rather than buy it they can sign it out from the library. 

She said there will also be a “climbing structure” to help “teach kids about health and wellness, and also allow them to have fun in the process.” 

The library will continue to run its branches at Big Sky High School, Frenchtown, Lolo, Potomac, Seeley Lake and Condon, and will retain it popular W.O.W. (Web On Wheels) mobile library and computer lab. 

They’ll also retain popular services and programs such as their collection of rare Montana materials; newspapers and magazines; genealogy databases; Tiny Tales and Story times; The Big Read; computer classes; cemetery records; Lego Club; Missoula Writes and Missoula Reads; and internet and computer access.

“Not everyone in our community has access to computers and the internet,” Bray said. “It’s an important service that we’ll continue to provide for all.” 

The Missoula library currently has 60,569 card holders, and receives more than 1,000 visitors each day. Last year, they circulated more than 1 million items and had 7,561 adults and 27,474 children and teenagers participate in the many programs.

“Our new library will also help people make connections to the place they are,” Bray said. “We’ll have a ‘watershed experience’ room with educational exhibits about our local rivers and fish.” 

Olson said they plan to set up a scope where people can view the elk herd on Mount Jumbo in the winter.

“Just the building itself can provide teachable moments,” he said.

The “All Under One Roof” capital campaign is still underway, with several options for contributing, Olson said. To learn more, and even take a simulated, virtual-video tour of the new facility, click on this link: http://www.missoulapubliclibrary.org/grow/