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The Parmly Billings Library has unveiled an interactive "word wall" for kids that was purchased with a donation from a late children's librarian.

A projector shoots a background image of the Rimrocks onto a wall in the children's area of the library. In the foreground, phrases and objects fall from the screen, and kids — or anyone else — can stand in front of the screen and catch the phrases as they fall. Using their shadows, the kids can balance objects on their hands, swat them off the screen or bounce them like a ball.

Similar interactive walls and projectors are used in museums, art galleries, airports and even at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Library Director Bill Cochran said the Billings library may be the first library to install such a wall.

The system was developed by Snibbe Interactive, a San Francisco-based company that creates "social immersive media." Cochran said the wall is another way to keep the library relevant for patrons who are more used to video games and computers.

"It's truly cutting-edge," Cochran told a small crowd Thursday that included about a dozen eager kids sitting on a soft rug in the story time area of the library. "We think we picked a very nice combination of past, present and future."

But like so many computer projects that crash just when you want to show them off, the wall didn't work at first during its premier demonstration. Frustrated librarians scrambled to reboot a computer in another room, and about 30 minutes later, the wall was working smoothly.

The wall will remain on during library hours, and kids are encouraged to play with the falling phrases and the blue birds that drop them from the sky.

The project, which cost about $25,000, was paid for with a gift from the estate of Edith Gronhovd, a former children's librarian who worked at the library from 1967 to 1976. Gronhovd, who passed away in 2007 at 93, was well-known in the community and received the Jeanette Rankin Peace Award and an honorary doctorate from Rocky Mountain College, among other honors.

Cindy Patterson, the current childrens librarian, said Gronhovd told colleagues that she had the best job in the world when she worked with kids.

"She has told us that from the gift she has given us," Patterson said. "She has truly given us a 21st century gift."

Gronhovd's daughter, Louise Spaulding, attended the unveiling Thursday and said her mother would have been proud of the wall.

"I think she'd be excited — anything to encourage the children to come to the library," Spaulding said.

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Contact Matt Hagengruber at or 657-1261.