The Columbia Falls Imagine IF library is abuzz with youngsters on a recent Thursday.
First, the kids listen to a couple of stories from staffer Ann Brooks and then they’re playing in sand and water, making shapes and sculptures.
No one is “shushing” them, and everyone seems pretty happy.
“We aren’t just about books anymore,” explains Megan Glidden, senior librarian. “There’s a big focus on hands-on learning.”
But with kids come noise and while the library used to be a bastion of quiet, it’s not anymore. That has sometimes raised tensions between the city staff and the library. In fact the city recently required the library to carry liability insurance, because there had been incidents of unruly kids making noise outside the library in city hall and vandalism to property across the street at the old union hall.
The library has taken corrective action, say Glidden and librarian Tony Edmundson. Today, students are required to be registered and have permission from their parents to be there.
It’s not just a place to hang out, Edmundson and Glidden note. They want kids to learn and the library has proven to be an attractive place for teens and tweens after school — as long as they behave.
On a slow day, they’ll get about 15 youth, on a busy day, 65, they say.
The library hosts a lot of activities, from programs on dinosaurs to “Wired Wednesdays” when kids do projects, like robotics.
The programs were a reaction to students showing up, Edmundson noted.
“We needed something for them to do,” he said. Library staff wanted them learning and engaging, rather than causing trouble.
“We’ve had to change the way we do things a little bit,” Edmundson said.
Make no mistake, the library still has plenty of books. The written word on good old paper is still the most popular way to read, they said. The library system has about 13,500 titles.
But the library also has a Wii where kids can play video games and several computer stations as well. It also has free wifi so kids can stay connected. New this year, students can get help with resumes and other job-seeking skills in cooperation with the state Department of Labor.
Is it possible to have a quiet space for the folks who still like to relax in a library?
Yes, Glidden and Edmundson say, but in Columbia Falls, that would require about twice as much space and a new building.
“Eventually we would like to have a new facility,” Glidden said.
But new libraries are not inexpensive — a plan for a new library in Bigfork is about $1.6 million.
Glidden said the library is thankful for the city’s support and Edmundson said after working with the same students for several years now, there’s been rewards.
“Some of these kids we’re now seeing into (high school) graduation,” he said.