HELENA — The Lewis and Clark Library is in the process of finishing the final touches on their new remodel. The library began work on the $6 million budget update in November 2019.
Library Director John Finn says they’re thrilled with the work and it is looking to come in a little under budget.
“It’s truly amazing where we’ve gotten to from where we’ve started,” said Finn. “Thanks to COVID construction actually picked up pace in the spring and early summer but as COVID wore on there were some labor shortages with some of the subcontractors. But now we’re practically done with major construction and it’s just stuff the library staff is doing right now.”
One of the most notable differences from the remodel are the improved and expanded meeting areas. Both the large and small community spaces have been expanded and feature improved technology, and the library has created a new “Discovery Room” for crafts and other messy programming offered at the library.
The library has also greatly expanded and improved their public reading spaces. New reading spaces can be found all over the library and the old genealogy section has been converted to a reading space with new large windows that overlook the Pioneer and Anchor parks.
“It’s a beautiful space. Really comfortable to just come and sit, have a cup of coffee and read a good book,” said Finn. “We’ve created spaces like this all over the library.”
Finn says the mission of libraries are drastically different, and rightfully need to be, than they were even a few decades ago.
“Our belief is that this library is Helena’s living room,” explained Finn. “We think that’s going to be a part of libraries in the future. That whole idea of being a community gathering space where people come and not only check out a book, but share ideas and use our rooms to have programs and meet with other people.”
The idea of being a community space is one of the reasons so much work went into providing a larger and more comfortable area for the teen and children sections.
The children area in particular saw the most drastic change with the addition of child-sized entrances into the area and a Sleeping Giant themed space, with reading nooks perfectly sized for little readers. Parents may also be happy to hear that there is a family restroom located in the children area right next to where Storytime will be held when the program resumes.
Due to the COVID-19, the main library is only open for holds pickup services; although digital services have continued throughout the pandemic.
“We have really ramped up our programming in the last few years and even during the pandemic our online programs have been super well attended,” said Finn. “We did a craft program recently that people came into the library to pick up craft kits and we ran out in a half hour. It’s been amazing.”
The Lewis and Clark Library is the oldest library in the State of Montana, recently featured as a clue on Jeopardy! Originally founded as a subscription library, Helena citizens voted to establish the Helena Public Library as a free library in 1886 when Montana was still a territory. The library has been housed in its current location since 1976 with the last remodel to update their technology happening from 2003 to 2004.
The 2019-2020 remodel was funded by $4 million for the library’s saving account and $2 million from a loan from the Montana State Board of Investments.
Finn says once it is safe to do so, the Lewis and Clark Library plans to celebrate the remodel with the community; hopefully sometime this summer. Until then the Lewis and Clark Library would like to thank all of the community support they’ve been given and the understanding they’ve received from patrons during the pandemic.
More information about library services available online can be found on the Lewis and Clark Library’s website.