LINCOLN – The Lewis and Clark Library serves over 30,000 patrons across the county and over the years they have worked to expand the services they offer to anyone who walks through their doors.
People living in rural Montana often depend on the services libraries provide. They are so much more than just a collection of books and information, they are a gateway to the outside world.
Along the rocky mountain front lies Augusta; 90 percent of the community there has a library card.
Augusta has almost always had a library of one fashion or another. The town’s first library existed before World War II before having to close for various reasons. And in 1973 Augusta officially became part of the Lewis and Clark Library system.
Branch librarian Holly Herring says that people will travel over 50 miles to use the library’s services and park outside the library at all hours of the night to use the branch’s WiFi.
While the checking out of books is still an import function of the library it’s not the only service the patrons depend on.
“They use the library as a place to sit and hang out,” said Herring, “They use the WiFi to check in with friends and family.”
Herring added, “I wouldn’t say it’s the only center of the town but I think it’s one of them.”
In the summer hikers from the continental divide will use the library as a checking in and resupply point.
55 miles down Highway 200 in Lincoln, MT that feeling and purpose for the library is mirrored.
Sherri Wood has been working at the Lincoln library for more than three decades and she makes sure each person who walks in the door gets what they came for.
“We’re the only resource that’s available at the strange hours that we have,” said Wood.
Wood said that the Lincoln library meeting room gets used on a daily basis and often multiple times a day.
The Lincoln and Augusta branches wouldn’t be able to offer their extensive services without help though.
Both Wood and Herring say that being a part of the greater Lewis and Clark Library is key to them being able to bring big city resources to their rural communities.
“It gives us a chance to give the people that would not have that technology to have it. It gives us a chance to keep up with the rest of the world,” said Wood.
Lewis and Clark Library Director John Finn says that the communities may be small but the people deserve free access to information.
In both communities, the library is the only public computer access available. So if the branches were to disappear from these rural areas so would the resources they provide.
“Oh, I think it would be devastating,” said Wood, “Because all the things we offer and fulfill for people they would no longer have at their fingertips and the majority would not be able to go to town to get it.”
Even if they didn’t have the support Wood says she loves her work and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“Every day that I come into work I’m thrilled that I get to be here, still after 33 years,” said Wood, “Sometimes I stop and think how lucky I am to be here and have this job. And watch this library grow. It just makes me feel good that we have given to this community so much.”
The Lewis and Clark Library says that they’re always looking at ways to expand their services and better serve Montana communities.
The Library Director, John Finn, says that they’re looking at opening a new branch location in the North Helena Valley. Finn says they are still determining what the branch will look like and what kind of size it will be, but the proposed branch will be a key focus of their 5-year strategic plan.
*Continue watching for a full interview with Director Finn.
For more information about the services the Lewis and Clark Library provides click here.