A Montana county’s battle shows how faith in public learning and public space is fraying.
By E. Tammy Kim, April 20, 2023
Every public library is an exception. The world outside is costly and cordoned off, but here no one is charged, and no one is turned away. People browse for books and go online. They learn English, meet with friends, dawdle, nap, and play. For children, the public library is a place to build an inner life, unencumbered by grownups. Story time is an invitation to that experience. A librarian reads a book aloud to a huddle of kids seated cross-legged on the floor.
It’s part early-literacy tool, part theatre, and looks basically the same wherever it happens. The public libraries in Flathead County, Montana, a region of mountainous beauty bordering Canada and Glacier National Park, offer seven story times per week, for babies on up. Three scattered branch locations—in Kalispell, Columbia Falls, and Bigfork—serve a population of a hundred and eleven thousand people, spread out over five thousand rugged square miles.