Not just "musty old books" at the Kalispell "Imagine If" Library

Jan 15, 2014

Getting "messy" at recently re-branded "Imagine If" Library of Kalispell.
Credit Katrin Frye

Walking into Flathead County Library’s main branch in Kalispell there’s the smell of fresh, buttery popcorn, and Alex Hogle and Jeremy Morrone play bluegrass music as people check out books, browse, and snack.

There’s also a big signs saying “Imagine If”. Flathead County Libraries recently unveiled itself as a new brand with “Imagine If.”

“Really it’s all about thinking outside what a traditional library has been. Going beyond just books, just sitting down and reading quietly by yourself or having overdue fines- we don’t have overdue fines anymore,” Librarian April Szuch said there won’t be live music and popcorn every day, but there will be projects and opportunities to get messy.      For example, next month they’re building a chicken coop.

Library Director Kim Crowley said getting messy is one way people learn.

“Some people learn by doing and making, other people learn by checking out a book, and these different activities will allow all of those different learning styles to be addressed, and we’ll have a lot of fun doing these things too,” Crowley said about a year ago they embarked on this re-branding effort.

She said the term itself, “library,” needed to be rejuvenated.

“We know that people use the library now more than ever; our numbers are much higher than they’ve been- ever. But, some people have this old notion of libraries; that it’s just a building that has some musty old books in it, you have to be quiet, so- we wanted to refresh that notion,” Crowley said.

Szuch said it is a way they’re staying relevant in an increasingly digital age, but it’s also a way they’re reconnecting with the community.

“For people who don’t use the library, we kind of had to do something big to let them know the library is very different from when you were a kid, or you were in school, and, it’s already a community gathering place and a place where people bring their kids, and they have an outing, and it’s a fun adventure; you never know what you’re going to find at the library.”

Crowley said they’ve been reaching out to kids in non-traditional ways for several years. Story hour still has stories, but also crayons, markers, glue and scissors for accompanying art projects. Teen groups meet for food, social events, and book talk too.

“Probably the biggest change is that we will have some of these hands-on interactive zones for adults, so that they can get their hands dirty, listen to music… eat popcorn,” Crowley said.

Crowley said they’re doing away with the late fees because they create a barrier for some people to access the library, particularly young people. Plus, the fees made it so that increasingly librarians were having negative interactions with patrons, collecting fines, instead of helping with track down a book. She said they still expect books, DVD’s audio recordings, etcetera returned on time. If a material is a month overdue the patron will not be able to check out new items, but she says it was clear to them that late fees didn’t work anyway, otherwise having items overdue wouldn’t be an issue.

This week the Imagine If libraries of Kalispell, Bigfork, Columbia Falls, and Marion are kicking off the rebranding with different events at the various branches.

Szuch said they hope to have music every month or so. They also have art exhibit space and are taking applications for artists to show their work.