Studies show that literate kids contribute to a community that is civic-minded, solution-oriented, and economically sustainable. And yet 40% of children are not school-ready when they enter kindergarten (Pew 2012). Public libraries are critical for stopping the literacy gap and helping kids develop lifelong learning skills. At Missoula Public Library, our youth services wing is too small to provide a full range of literacy programming. Storytimes are often overcrowded, and interactive learning is hampered by outdated conditions. Our new central library will feature not only more program space, but new partnerships with Children’s Museum Missoula, Families First, spectrUM Discovery Center, and MCAT. Together, these beloved groups will create a full-service learning ecosystem — and a new model for community innovation and commitment to the future well-being of Missoula County youth.
One in four Americans does not have internet access at home. Public libraries are the number one provider of computer training, digital literacy, and electronic resources — from tax forms to job search assistance — especially for new residents, senior citizens, and nontraditional students. But our library was built in 1974, when virtually no one used computers for work, school, or communication. MPL’s mid-century building design obstructs connectivity. Library computers are in high demand, but usage is limited by lack of space and high demand. Our new library will open the doors to the shared technology and tools people need for networking in the 21st century. Computer capacity will be tripled. Wi-Fi will be faster. Access to digital collections, media arts production, 3D printing, and more will expand as well.
MPL is the busiest library in the state. We host 700,000 visitors each year, and loan more than a million items to 60,000 cardholders. The main branch is a downtown anchor, a source for a wide range of public services, and a hub for seven county-wide library branches. But according to national library standards and an expert site study, MPL is one-third the size it should be for (a) the size of its community and (b) the level of shared resources our community expects from a library. MPL serves Missoulians from every walk of life, including job seekers, students, and people on fixed incomes. Replacing the old building is an investment in democratic ideals and equal opportunity. An expanded library will be a vital and more accessible community-wide resource.