Learn Local at the Belgrade Community Library

Wednesday Nov. 1st, 2017

In a place where our neighbors range from gardeners, to brewers, to horse trainers, to mountaineers, there is an abundance of knowledge we can share. Established by the Belgrade Women’s Club in 1932, the Belgrade Community Library (BCL) has deep roots in the downtown area and serves as a hub where conversation and learning meet.

Monday, October 2, marked the kickoff of the library’s Learn Local series, spearheaded by librarians Keiley McGregor and Rebekah Kamp. Learn Local aims to promote the passions, professions, and knowledge of Belgrade’s local talent. That evening, author Buck Buchanan taught families about ranch life through song and story with the help of his guitar and recently published children’s book, Denni-Jo and Pinto. The next week saw luthier Dan Roberts of Daniel Roberts Stringworks walking attendees through the process of building acoustic guitars from scratch. Far from a plain recitation of steps, Roberts put his craft into a global context, touching on the relationship between tree lumber and sound quality, the history of guitar production during wartime, and entertaining anecdotes about his experiences working with the Buddy Holly Foundation and building guitars for famous musicians.

The coming weeks will treat library patrons to conversations with Amaltheia Organic Dairy, horsewoman Peggy Lucas, and author and former Recon Marine Peter Nealen. McGregor and Kamp continue to seek out a range of presenters who reflect the diversity of knowledge and experience in Belgrade and the surrounding area. Learn Local joins Wonderlust, Montana Conversations, and Fitness with Friends on the library’s current roster of lifelong learning opportunities. While these programs target adults and older children, the library features local learning options for even the youngest Belgradians.

On Thursday and Friday mornings, caregivers with tots on hips and in strollers line up outside the library waiting for storytime. Local mother and library member Carrie Ferguson writes, “I love my library because I get information on child development and a variety of books to expose my children to new print every time we visit.” Learning at storytime goes beyond the page to include singing, talking, and playing together to build early literacy skills that create a foundation for reading. Some of the most important learning happens at the end of storytime when the library facilitates social play. Anything but quiet, the children’s library and storytime space is full of laughter and conversation.

Storytime, Babies and Books, and other children’s programs provide an important venue for parents to share information and connect with others. Library Foundation President Colleen Karls got her library start at Belgrade’s Babies and Books program. “I remember my first Babies and Books. I was a new mom, very shy,” explains Karls. “I ventured out of the house with my two-week-old baby and fell in love with storytime. I truly feel going to the library helped me as a new mom build a routine, and it was a wonderful opportunity for my children and me to socialize in a welcoming environment.” Every storytime at the library includes time for families to talk and meet their neighbors. As is the case for many, Karls found the support of other caregivers to be invaluable. “They say it takes a village to raise a child. Belgrade Community Library is where I found mine!”

Older students and teens also have a space in the library. Each month the library offers a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) Night where families interact with professionals and mentors in the valley. Last fall, kids worked with engineers to build contraptions to protect eggs, which they then dropped from a high altitude weather balloon. Past STEAM Nights included edible architecture, Hour of Code, and a live, virtual meet-up with a scuba diver at the Great Barrier Reef. These programs and others are designed with guidance from youth ambassadors from the library’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG), a leadership program for Belgrade middle and high school students.

With resources and programming for infants through older adults, the library is often at capacity. BCL is exploring options for expansion to meet the present and future needs of Belgrade, one of the fastest growing cities in Montana. Expansion ideas include increased seating options, youth spaces, technology labs, and a larger meeting room to better accommodate summer programing and public events.

A team of stakeholders worked with Tom McNab and students from the Community Design Center to evaluate options for expansion. The library owns the property immediately behind the existing building, which might provide space for a future addition. To kick off a capital campaign, the Belgrade Community Library Foundation received a $400,000 donation from Milesnick Ranch, Inc. shareholders in honor of Joyce Milesnick and her husband, the late Stan Milesnick.

Earlier this year, BCL adopted the mission to “empower a community of lifelong learners.” The library empowers learners through open access to a variety of resources, services, and programs. From infants to older adults, people from all backgrounds are welcome at the library to learn and join in conversations that inspire thought and form connections with the broader region and world.

The library also unveiled a new logo in October 2017, which was designed by MSU Graphic Design student, Nicole Kirschten. Constructed of colorful bars, the logo is a bench that represents the library’s role as a place for kinship and conversation. It invites all viewers to linger in the comfort of the library. To some, the bars may represent books while others will see music bars, stepping stones, technology, and people coming together. The colors are taken from the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park, representing the library’s local Montana pride.

BCL was recognized nationally in 2015 by the Library Journal and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the Best Small Library in America. During a recent “I Love the Library” campaign, Belgrade patrons described the library as “accepting of all walks of life” and as a “much need community center for critical educational, social, and cultural services.”  Join the conversation and learn local at your Belgrade Community Library!    

Keiley McGregor, adult services librarian, and Rebekah Kamp, youth services librarian, work at the Belgrade Community Library. They can be reached at kmcgregor@mtlib.org and rkamp@mtlib.org