By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Archives for the written word – what we today call libraries – have been discovered by archaeologists dating back to 2600 B.C. Most thriving communities have a place to access literature and the annals of history, and Big Sky is no exception.
The community library in Big Sky opened its doors in October 2000, and has steadily grown as a resource for all ages inside the confines of Ophir School. Community librarian Kathy House has been a driving force for this growth since its inception.
House moved to Bozeman in 1983 after graduating from Morehead State University in Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education. The Fargo, N.D. native had fallen in love with southwest Montana during four summers spent working in Yellowstone National Park at Canyon and Fishing Bridge.
House landed her first teaching job in Three Forks in 1991 and four years later took an elementary teaching job in Big Sky. She became Ophir school librarian in 1997 and took the helm at the newly minted Big Sky Community Library in 2000.
“The funds for the Ophir School library were just not there,” House said. “No one was really benefitting from the library, so I decided to get the community involved. A board was elected in the fall of 1999 and we then visited several different libraries around the state. The support and funds from the community have been a great thing, and everyone definitely wins.”
Community members have access to the space 20 hours a week on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Preschool story time at 10:30 a.m. on Mondays has been a big hit and a great way to get kids comfortable with the school setting, she said.
Big Sky’s community library has more than 22,000 books on the shelves, but it’s also a resource for computers, printers, audiobooks and DVDs. The technology housed in this space is an increasingly vital resource for residents and visitors alike.
“In the summertime you get a lot of people coming through [Big Sky],” House said. “They’re here on vacation following some sort of [homeschooling] curriculum maybe staying in Big Sky for a month. They participate in summer reading programs or whatever we have going on.”
There are also about 15 local families that homeschool their children, House said, and use the books, computers and DVDs as teaching tools.
The Big Sky Resort Tax Board helped get the library off the ground, funding it with $25,000 that first year, for new computers and adult books. That support is progressively increasing and last year $65,000 in resort tax was earmarked for the library.
The RTB isn’t the only local entity that sees value in this community resource. The Buck and Helen Knight Foundation has donated approximately $15,000 in 12 years and funded the library’s SMART Board last year – essentially a whiteboard with digital functionality – and four new computers.
“[Buck and Helen] were very community minded,” said Mike Scholz, president of the foundation, which was created by the owners of Buck’s T-4 from 1946–72. “Their history with the school goes back to when it was a one-room schoolhouse at the Crail Ranch. They were very generous people and [the foundation] continues to make decisions that we think were important to Buck and Helen.”
The Rapier Family Foundation also donated $10,000 last year for new computers, but most of the library’s support comes from the community.
Resort Tax money funds approximately 80 percent of the library’s operating budget and Friends of the Library raises the remaining 20 percent with used book sales throughout the summer, according to chairperson Kay Reeves.
A community resource is only as good as its accessibility, and Reeves said that’s where House thrives.
“Kathy’s very well organized, and easily transitions between working with kindergarteners to adults,” Reeves said. “She’s very knowledgeable about the science of libraries, and always has new ideas to get out to the community about our library.”
It also takes a love of books to be a good librarian, and House usually has three or four going at a time to keep up on the current trends in literature.
“Children’s biographies are one of my favorite genres,” House said. “I think it’s important to expose children to history through this medium and important for students to look to some of these people and see what they’ve endured and accomplished to make the world a better place.”