GREAT FALLS — Ken Robison, a Cascade County historian, has requested that the Great Falls Public Library be renamed in honor of former head librarian Alma Smith Jacobs.
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 library has already dedicated a mural on the side of the building to Jacobs, as well as a memorial, and the building is frequently referred to as the “house that Alma built.” But Robison has 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.
Robison said the country’s reckoning with the issue of race this year makes now the perfect time to honor someone like Jacobs.
“Let’s do justice to not only the racial progress that’s been made, but to the tremendous service that she did here in the community, both as a tremendous librarian but also in her work on civil rights,” he said.
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.
At a meeting last week, one board member expressed some logistical concerns about renaming the building, and another suggested the board develop a concrete naming policy. The board will consider the request, with Robison, at its next meeting.