BY BARBARA ROWLEY

The Big Sky Community Library,
located in Ophir School, is a bustling
and growing success. The library has
a catalog of 15,000 items, 16 computers, a support base of 200 active
volunteers, a beautiful memorial
garden, lively weekly story times
and often, guest speakers.
But when the idea for a library for
Big Sky was first broached ten years
ago, it wasn’t seen as a universally
good idea.
“We had critics say, I have all the
books I need. Why do we need
a library?” remembers Marlene
Fontana, one of the founding board
members and the first president of
Friends of the Library (FOL).
Undeterred, Fontana and four
friends each pitched in $20 to pay
the costs of incorporating themselves and asked the community
for support. The Big Sky Resort Tax
Board kicked in $20,000 and the
community helped fill the shelves
with books.
“We got—and still get—a huge
response to our request for old
books,” says Roberta Crew, volunteer coordinator for the Friends of
the Library. “But now we sell the
ones which don’t fit in with our collection. It is a continuing source of
funds for the library.”
“The money from the Resort Tax
was more than we ever dreamed of
getting,” says Fontana.” The Friends
hired Kathy House, School Librarian, who has had the dual responsibility of school and community
libraries ever since.
The library founders made a decision
not become a publicly supported
district, and instead, help expand
and share the existing school library.
This meant all they needed to do
was buy books.
“We were so lucky
that the school board was willing to
work with us and shared our vision,”
says Crew. Two years ago, when the
school expanded, the library did as
well, meeting the growing needs of
the school and community at the
same time.
While the school-community library partnership is unusual in Mon-
tana—only one other library em-
ploys it—it is logical and successful,
say library founders. “We don’t have
to buy children’s books—the school
does that—and in turn the school
community can access our extensive
adult collections and computers,”
explains Fontana.
Resort Tax Chair Al Malinowski
says supporting the library has fallen
clearly within their funding guide-
lines. “What’s been great is that the
library truly does impact all aspects
of our community from the temporary workers to kids—you see every
walk of Big Sky life in our library,
and that’s one of our goals—to make
sure that our dollars go to projects
that touch all community members.”
The stories about how the library
touches lives are legion. “I’ve
watched international workers ride
the bus down, so happy to be able to
talk to their parents and get books to
read,” says Crew. “Young moms and
kids love story time,” says volunteer
Gayle Eidson. “Moms socialize and
kids, like my granddaughter, grow
up coming here.” For retirees, the library is a welcome destination. “I’m
living alone for the first time,” says
volunteer Connie Barton.
“When I
come to the library I interact with
many people—and always find a
book to read.”
As the library enters its second decade, plans are to keep growing and
improving. A Junior Friends of the
Library program, using the new and
increasing population of teenagers
in town, have been discussed. The
Memorial Shelf fundraiser has over
200 named shelves. Planning is underway for new programs using the
recently constructed French/Tuohy
Memorial Garden.
The library is an on-going community-oriented project. “We are
always looking for new ideas and
ways to use the library to reach more
community members and serve the
public,” says current FOL Chair,
Kay Reeves. “The Friends of the
Library can always use more help.
There are so many different ways to
get involved, whether it’s packing up
boxes for the Books for Soldiers program, or volunteering to help shelve
books. We’re continually seeking
new members and memberships.” For more information on becoming
an FOL member, call the library at
995-4281 ext. 205 or bigskylibrary.org and click on FOL.
Barbara Rowley is a long-time supporter of the library. A 20-year resident of Big Sky and career magazine
writer, she has been or is a contributing editor to many national publications including Parenting, Family Fun
and Outside Magazines.