Normally the library is a place you go to borrow books, but on Wednesday a few Bitterroot Public Library patrons were dropping off books of their own for a little while.
Turns out these books were in need of a little TLC. So they were put in the hands of the library's volunteer book menders, who, as a one-time perk to the public in honor of National Library Week - and in response to patron requests - taped and sewed the books back into form.
"They are amazing," Gloria Langstaff, director of the Bitterroot Public Library, said of the folks who normally provide the upkeep and maintenance for the facility's collection, including adding jacket covers and bar codes to new additions.
This service to the public was just one of the things going on during the Hamilton library's National Library Week open house Wednesday. There was coffee, tea and snacks, a pizza party for the afterschool crowd and tours of myriad resources contained in the building.
As always, the facility was a busy place, with kids' reading programs unfolding in one corner, while people sat and surfed the Internet at various computer stations.
Langstaff said the facility is meant to be a community resource.
Its role is amplified when people are struggling economically, she said, and typically visits and use of library resources jump.
This year has been no exception.
"There have been more people through the door, circulation is up and computer use is way up," Langstaff said.
At the North Valley Public Library in Stevensville, director Renee McGrath said they've seen the same thing.
"We've seen our circulation increase by 18 percent," McGrath said.
The increased public interest in the Stevensville library coincides with the long-range planning process that has North Valley Public Library in the midst of a push to explore building a new facility, or at least gutting and reconstructing, at their current Main Street location.
During the scoping process for how to best have the library fit the needs of the community, McGrath said they had asked specifically what residents wanted from their library.
"The community said they wanted the library to be a welcoming environment where people can gather and exchange ideas," McGrath said. "We were surprised by that. We thought they'd say we should be a provider of information. But the community clearly wants a gathering spot."
McGrath said a new facility would allow the North Valley Library to better meet that vision.
McGrath said they had interviewed 11 architects and had narrowed the field down to five, with interviews to be conducted soon.
After that, the library will have a better grasp of what kind of funding it will take to build a new facility, but McGrath stressed they would mount a private fund-raising campaign rather than ask voters for a bond.
The North Valley Public Library, which is funded by a tax district that includes boundaries defined by the Stevensville and Lone Rock school districts, successfully asked taxpayers to more than double their annual contribution to the library in 2006, raising the mill levy to 13.58 mills, or $28 annually on a house of $100,000 in assessed value.
At the time, McGrath said they campaigned on the notion that it would cost a family roughly the cost of a new hard-cover book - the request passed by a healthy margin.
"They supported us back then and times are much tougher now," she added. "That's why we don't want to do a bond issue for the new building."
Meanwhile, McGrath said they forge ahead on the usual, lending books, putting people in touch with research and information resources, connecting the public to the World Wide Web. Generally, McGrath said the facility is buoyed by a hardworking and dedicated staff.
"That's why we celebrated National Library Workers' Day," McGrath said.
There was pizza for lunch and pats on the back.
"I'm very fortunate to have all the people we have on the front lines here," McGrath said. "I think our staff is outstanding."
In Hamilton, Langstaff was similarly grateful for what her staff was able to do for Bitterroot Public Library patrons.
A new toddler reading program has been added to the library's offerings for children and the summer reading series will soon kick off once again.
A teen advisory board helps offer some direction about what the older kids might want out of their public library.
And Nansu Roddy, the adult services librarian, has similarly ramped up her outreach program for seniors.
Roddy runs a story time and book discussion groups during visits with members of a number of assisted-living facilities and also works to advise them on the library offerings that go beyond the printed word.
"I like to give them options," Roddy said. "I'm not only there to talk about books, but I'm there to promote other resources that might be helpful to them at their stage in life - audio books, DVDs, anything that will help keep their minds alert and critical"
But, as the menders can attest, there are always the books.
And, as with every library, Langstaff said there are some readers who simply plow through every new title that comes in the door. So, she and her staff added a "new this week" shelf so they wouldn't have to go through the new additions stack, which contains books that are new in recent months.
And the avid reading crowd has been responsive, Langstaff said.
"And it's just like, ‘poof,' and they're gone by the end of the week," she said. "We don't even have to shelve them."
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Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.