Billings’ new library is five years old this month. If that fact is surprising, the statistics on how our new library is being used are amazing:
- More than 1.8 million people have walked through the automatic doors at the library’s north and south entrances since January 2014.
- The door count in 2018 alone was 382,347 people – a 40–percent increase over the 273,469 users logged in the last year of the old library.
- In 2018, the library checked out 901,201 items, including books, videos and other media.
- Last year, the library offered 1,365 programs, which were attended by 31,339 people.
- In addition, the library hosted 719 meetings for outside organizations that had total attendance of 12,321 people.
- The number of people attending library programs has doubled since the voter-approved library opened in January 2014.
- The number of community organizations meeting at the library quadrupled, and the number of people attending those meetings grew from 2,496 in 2013 to 12,324 in 2018.
The two-story, 66,000-square-foot library stretches the entire length of the block of Sixth Avenue North between North Broadway and North 29th Street. The American Institute of Architecture and the American Library Association selected it for the 2016 library design award — one of only seven such awards presented in the United States and Canada.
The Billings library design built in energy efficiency and sustainability, qualifying for the highest achievement designated by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Program. Billings Public Library was the seventeenth U.S. library to qualify for LEED Platinum status.
One reason that the library might not seem five years old is that the entire project wasn’t completed in January 2014. Gazette readers will recall that the new library opened more than a year before its parking lot did. The demolition of the old library was delayed repeatedly by problems with asbestos removal, contractor issues and a mistake in planning the use and disposal of demolition debris. It was just two years ago, on Jan. 26, 2016, that the City Council approved a final financial settlement of its claims over the old library demolition.
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Despite lack of convenient parking and the library’s main entrance remaining blocked by demolition, curious crowds showed up when the library opened. Nearly 500 people turned out to see the new library the first morning on Jan. 6, 2014. The library issued 1,400 new library cards in its first week.
Voters approved the major funding for the $20 million library, but $5 million of the cost was provided by private donors working with the Billings Library Foundation. The project got a tremendous boost early on when an anonymous donor, referred to as “Mr. Smith,” donated $2 million for the planning and design. That gift allowed library proponents to present detailed architectural plans and a scale model to voters.
The library is a community accomplishment to celebrate. It brings us together — for literacy, for community discussions, for children’s stories and family fun nights, for high-tech learning and teen events, for research into genealogy and Montana history. The library has books and computers; it hosts gardening and Tai Chi classes. Kids can read a book to a dog (a real dog) or take a craft class. Teens have their own computer space.
Thanks to library leaders, friends and foundation, Billings taxpayers and private donors, the Billings Public Library is a great gathering and learning place that all of us can enjoy.