It was uncharacteristically loud for a library. People raised their voices to talk to those around them as a jazz band played in the background. Others stood near the refreshment table, helping themselves to pastries and punch. But not everyone was there for the party.
“Actually, I came down to get some books,” said Nancy Lanier, holding her library card in her hand as she scanned shelves.
Saturday afternoon marked the grand opening of the new East Helena branch of the Lewis and Clark County Library. The festivities — including a ribbon-cutting ceremony — drew a crowd that included several library board members and local politicians, including County Commissioner Mike Murray and East Helena Mayor Anthony Strainer. An hour into the celebration, library administrators estimated that about 60 people had already rotated through to see the new facility.
“It’s a mob scene in there,” said assistant librarian Brian Kmec, standing outside the building to man the snowcone machine.
Paid for with funds coming from a library operating levy approved by voters in 2008, the new facility at 16 E. Main Street has been open for visitors since the end of June. The East Helena branch had operated out of the East Valley Middle School for about 10 years, but there were limitations in its operation since it could only be used at times when school was not in session, said library spokesperson Patricia Spencer. The East Helena branch had seen an increase in visitors recently, she said, prompting the upgrade to the new building.
East Helena branch librarian Diane Potter said even more people have been drawn to the new building in the month it’s been open. Senior citizens, in particular, have been utilizing the new resource, she said, and the library’s summer reading program has been bringing in about 55 children a week. Because of its location, the kids have been able to go places like Main Street Park, she said.
“We’re now part of the downtown,”
The new library contains about 6,000 books, DVDs and audio resources, said library director Judy Hart. People who already have Lewis and Clark County Library cards can check out books from the East Helena branch and books can be returned at either location. If visitors can’t find the books they want in the East Helena library, the branch can borrow them from the main county library or from other libraries in the region.
Helena High School English teacher Randy Hussey and his wife, Betsy, came over to check out the new branch since they enjoy going to the county’s Helena library. Noting the extra space on some of the shelves, they acknowledged that there was room to grow, but were content to search through what was available.
Thirteen-year-old Devan Shumway, visiting the East Helena branch for the first time, was pleased with what he saw.
“There are lots of good books,” he said, looking through the young adult section.
Potter said the new library has added a Montana collection and beefed up its reference and large-print sections. It also has reading programs for a range of age groups, Spencer said, on top of longer hours. The new building is open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
Before the Main Street building was used for the library, it had held the offices for the United Steelworkers union and, later, a barbershop. Artist Bob Morgan, at the library signing copies of his print “The Day Before the Stacks Came Down,” said he’d last been in the building for a dance in 1947, when it was still owned by the union and he was still in high school.
He said the library is a great new use for the space, though people in the town might not yet realize how valuable of a resource it is.
“But they will — wait and see,” he said.
Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or email@example.com