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Great Falls Public Library announces decision on name change

Great Falls Public Library
Great Falls Public Library - mural of Alma Jacobs
 Library Director Susie McIntyre
Posted at 6:20 PM, Dec 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 10:59:48-05

GREAT FALLS — After several months of debate and public comment, the Great Falls Public Library will not change its name to the Great Falls Alma Jacobs Library.

Jacobs played a major role in opening the library, after being appointed as head librarian in 1954. She served for almost 20 years before being named Montana State Librarian in 1973, both historic firsts for a Black woman.

The proposal was brought up by Cascade County historian Ken Robison, who in 2020 requested that the library be named in honor of Jacobs, the former head librarian.

Robison had requested the library consider renaming it to make a broader statement about where the community of Great Falls stands on the issue of race in the U.S.

The library has already dedicated a mural on the side of the building to Jacobs, as well as a mural, and the building is frequently referred to as the “house that Alma built.”

Great Falls Public Library - mural of Alma Jacobs

While the library will keep its name, they also plan to create space in the building to honor Jacobs' legacy.

Library director Susie McIntyre explained, "We want to honor Alma Smith Jacobs, but the (naming) committee did not feel that renaming the library was the best way to go. We are doings some other things such as creating a documentary about Alma Smith Jacobs, creating space in the library to highlight her and her work, and we are also working with the Montana Library Association to create a library award in her name."

And even though the library will keep its historic name, they plan to continue educating others about the life and legacy of Jacobs.

McIntyre said, "We want to continually honor the legacy of Alma Smith Jacobs who was a phenomenal leader, a civil rights advocate. She did amazing things, and when she was director here at the Great Falls Public Library in the 60s, there were restaurants downtown that wouldn't serve her, and she continued to serve our community, and we want to honor that, and highlight how important Civil Rights is and how important the library is."

Click here to read the full committee report (PDF).

The library website has more information about Jacobs' impact and the history of the library, including this overview:

In 1954, after working as a catalog librarian for 8 years, Alma Jacobs was named head librarian of Great Falls Public Library. At a time when the city was strictly segregated, Jacobs, an African American, became one of the city’s most respected women through her untiring and determined work for the library. A longtime friend of Jacobs, Dorothy Bohn stated, “it was due to her that people mellowed here in Great Falls”. Jacob’s chief concern was library service to the community and downplayed the subject of her race stating, “I resent being thought of as a Negro librarian. I would rather concentrate on being a good librarian”. Alma Jacobs would head the Great Falls Public Library until 1973 when she resigned to head the Montana State Library in Helena.

Here are the results of a KRTV online poll: