Lewis and Clark Library is planning to renovate its Helena branch for the first time in about a decade and a half, according to spokeswoman Patricia Spencer.
Director John Finn embraces Lewis & Clark Library’s role as Helena’s living room, or as Finn refers to it, “the third place.”
Mosaic Architecture of Helena recently began meeting with library staff to work out the details of the interior renovation project.
That renovation presents a unique challenge because of the library’s landlocked position between Park Avenue and Last Chance Gulch. Outward expansion is not an option; the building already occupies all of its owned space, Spencer said, and expanding upward is cost-prohibitive.
“Our book collection will stay the same, but we are repurposing some older spaces in the building for new uses,” Director John Finn said.
That includes moving and expanding the children’s and teen areas for more program space, expanding the existing meeting rooms and adding four small ones, shrinking public computer areas — “Everybody’s got their own devices now,” Finn said — and retooling the lobby, bathrooms and cafe.
“(We’re) just making it more inviting and accessible for more people to use as a meeting place,” Finn said.
As far as a timeline, Finn said to expect about 12 months of renovation beginning in the fall, but hopes for as little disruption to library activities as possible.
“We are expecting some noisy days because there’s going to be some big things happening during the construction and demolition,” Finn said. “But we hope to keep service levels as high as they can.”
However, Finn said, the remodel doesn’t make more room for the library’s physical collections. He noted that e-audiobook checkouts rose 16 percent in 2018, a much faster rate than checkouts of physical items.
The library’s overall collection is still growing, he said, because of the library’s addition of more electronic items.
In all, the library circulated more than 376,000 nondownloadable items in 2018, everything from books and DVDs down to puppets (an impressive 1,792) and ukuleles (49).