The Billings Public Library and School District 2 were among the winners Thursday during the Montana Library Association’s annual conference at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.
The Billings Public Library Foundation also received the Special Friend to Libraries award.
The Billings Public Library was named the state’s library of the year, the second time in a decade it has received the honor. School District 2 won the Pat Williams Intellectual Freedom award.
The school district earned the award in recognition of the district’s handling last fall of the controversy over a parent group’s proposal to ban Sherman Alexie’s young-adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” from the Skyview High School required reading list. After a three-trustee committee studied the proposal and heard from the public, the board voted unanimously not to remove the book.
Debbi Kramer, MLA executive director, said the award goes to an individual or group making a significant contribution to the enhancement of the First Amendment, or to an individual who has made a significant contribution to intellectual freedom. It’s named after former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont
Accepting the award, school board chair Allen Halter admitted the controversy “was not something you look forward to, but it was put on our plate.” He thanked the librarians for the award and praised the librarians who work within the school district.
Superintendent Terry Bouck said that “what really stood out” during the challenge and hearing from the public “was the courage of our students. We had a lot of students who spoke their position publicly.”
The two men got a standing ovation from the assembled librarians from around the state.
The Special Friend to Libraries award is given annually to groups or individuals who aren’t MLA members. The Billings Public Library Foundation “has been real instrumental in getting a lot of things done here,” Kramer noted.
Billings Library Director Bill Cochran said the award recognizes the “enormous amount of time and effort” that foundation members and other volunteers put into the capital campaign and ballot initiative that led to construction of the new library.
“The foundation took a very strong leadership role securing (a $2 million, anonymously given) lead donation, getting the community involved in the planning process and hiring the architects,” he said.
Leslie Modrow, the foundation’s development director, praised the volunteers who “believe even beyond their own lives, jobs and families that libraries are important and make the community.”
The library of the year award goes to a Montana library that features quality user services, forms innovative partnerships, significantly develops its collection, embraces growth opportunities and/or improves its facilities, Kramer said.
The library of the year honor “is very much a community award,” Cochran said. “The enormous traffic that we have experienced (since the new library opened in January) reflects there was in fact a very strong demand for this kind of space and these kinds of services.”
Early in the design process, local library staff received help from libraries in other communities that had built new facilities, including Bozeman and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Since the Billings library opened, “we have had staff and foundation members meet or talk to a number of libraries in the state” interested in renovating or constructing a new building, Cochran said. “We feel a debt to Bozeman and others, so we are paying it forward.”
Accepting the award from former library trustee Lyn McKinney, who’s also the librarian at Billings Senior High School, library board chair Shari Nault told the crowd that “working for nonprofits, we’re all familiar with making do with what we have. But this has been a long time coming,” she added, and “we have a journal of stories we could share from the old building. It’s amazing the stuff people can put up with.”
The award celebrates “an extraordinary new structure as well as the tenacity of the staff,” she said.
“Frankly,” she added with a broad smile, “we feel we deserve the award, and so we accept it proudly.”