Libraries are fundamental to life in America, especially in rural communities. Not only do they provide access to reading materials and digital resources; small town libraries regularly serve as multipurpose facilities: employment centers, senior centers, youth centers, event centers, and more. Here, local history is preserved. Here, medical and social services are provided. Here, community outreach takes place.
A library’s value extends far beyond its bookshelves.
“People come here because they feel welcome,” says Nancy Sackett, librarian at Lewistown Public Library.
Built in 1905, the Lewistown Public Library is one of a total of 2,509 libraries throughout the U.S. funded by businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The limestone structure, along with two additions (built in 1960 and 1990), have helped to preserve Lewistown’s antiquity while embracing its future. Resources are numerous—over 40,000 works of fiction, nonfiction, magazines, newspapers, photographs, and more.
“Our library reflects our community culture and values,” says Sackett. “We offer lifelong learning and entertainment that is free and unbiased.”
Part of that comes in the form of free Internet access.
“Our library was one of the first with Internet access, which was cutting edge,” Sackett explains. “We now offer unsecured WiFi, 24/7, so people can access Internet even when we are closed by parking their cars outside or working from our covered entrance area that has a bench.”
In a world where knowledge is power, libraries are free energy, providing access to information, entertainment, culture, and resources, regardless of societal status. In rural states, such as Montana, these institutions are particularly important because availability of reliable Internet is limited. Roughly 32 percent of Treasure State residents are completely without Internet access for personal use, and many more face low bandwidth and slow network speed.
“This was especially helpful for kids who were cut off to online access during the COVID-19 shutdowns,” says Sackett.
Throughout the pandemic and since, Lewistown Public Library’s free WiFi has enabled visitors to learn and connect online. Even now that life has returned to normal (more or less), area youth can be found hanging in and around their local library for its various resources.
“Our library is a social hub,” explains Sackett.
The cliché of “no talking” does not hold true here. Guests of the Lewistown Public Library must be respectful of other visitors of course, but the staff delights in being able to provide a venue for friendly conversation, entertainment, and intellectual and community growth. Programs include children’s story times, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library (where kids receive a free book each month), the Montana Memory Project (orchestrated through the Montana Historical Society), meetings of the nonprofit Humanities Montana, and a senior outreach program that provides books to assisted living centers throughout the community.
Additionally, on the first Friday and Saturday of each month, the “Friends of the Library” operate the Library Book Station in another building on the library campus. Here, volunteers organize and sell a wide variety of donated books at discounted prices in support of library programming.
“The selection is phenomenal, with everything you would see in a bookstore,” says Sackett.
As an avid reader, Sackett enjoys being able to share the joy of reading with others. She started as a volunteer at the Lewistown Public Library in 1984 and has been an employee since 1985.
“It’s a great place,” says Sackett of the smalltown library that never goes stale.
There’s always something new to check out at the Lewistown Public Library.