Local library, supporter gain big state honors

By 
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
The book on Dillon Dillon

Public Library Director Lori Roberts (left) and library supporter Debbie Sporich display the awards they landed from the Montana Library Association. The library staff (from left) Cathy Speich-Ferguson, Edna Scalzone and Kim Denny, join the celebration. M.P. Regan photo

If you ever suspected that Dillon boasts a great public library for a city its size...well, it turns out you weren’t giving it all the credit it deserves.

Because the Dillon Public Library this month gained recognition as Montana’s top public library—for a municipality of any size.

“I think it is super cool,” said Dillon Public Library Director Lori Roberts of the local library reeling in the Montana Library Association (MLA) Library of the Year distinction to the Dillon Public Library.

“This library is the heartbeat of the town. It caters to all ages from preschoolers to the elderly. This library seeks to provide an array of services for all helping to transform lives through the varied services it provides,” wrote local resident Pamela Laursen in a letter of support cited by Montana Library Association (MLA) in honoring the Dillon Public Library.

“This honor doesn’t usually go to a library from a town this size,” noted Debbie Sporich, arguably Dillon’s most avid book lover and a longtime supporter of the local public library.

“It usually goes to a library from somewhere like Billings or Helena,” said Sporich of the prestigious annual award, the plaque for which was bestowed upon the library in informal fashion this week, due to the official ceremony for it scheduled for the first week of April in Missoula getting cancelled over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s such a testament to what a great public library we have here and to the citizens of Dillon and this county who support it,” said Sporich, who herself gained a plaque this past week from the MLA, which honored the owner of downtown Dillon’s The Bookstore and head of the Friends of the Dillon Public Library as its Special Friend of Libraries Award winner for 2020.

“I worked for over 20 years to establish a Friends of the Library in Dillon,” said Sporich, a member, off and on, of the local Library Board for 16 years.

“But there were roadblocks and I didn’t really know how to go about it. So, I just dug my feet in three years ago and figured out how to do a 501(c)3” recalled Sporich of taking the key legal step to establishing the nonprofit Friends of the Dillon Public Library, which aids the library in numerous ways and played a key role in bringing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library service to the Dillon Public Library.

“Kids get a new book mailed to them each month with their names on them,” said Sporich of the service named for the famous country singer who struggled with illiteracy as a child.

“It helps kids get so far ahead in their reading skills and vocabulary before they even start school,” said Sporich of a service funded in part by the United Way of Beaverhead County, a Great Harvest Bake Day and monies from the Festival of Trees, as well as from the local Elks Lodge and individual donors to help enrich the reading lives of over 100 area kids.

“So many people in Dillon saw what we were doing and provided so much support, we will be here for a very long time,” said Sporich, who hailed the Dillon Public Library for continuing to evolve to meet the changing needs of area people in relation to reading—and for enriching so many other aspects of local lives.

“This library has kept up with the changes in tech and demands of what people expect in a library without losing its core of love of books,” said Sporich, citing the local library’s instal lation of public computer stations that many in the community rely on for Internet access and other tech needs.

“People use the computers to do research and get email and apply for jobs and find essential services,” said Sporich, who also praised the library for stepping into the void created by the shuttering in recent years of the local Job Service and some key public mental health services.

“The Dillon Public Library is much more than a city library,” wrote former Beaverhead County Museum Director Lynn Giles in her letter cited in the MLA’s awarding of Library of the Year to the local establishment that has provided programming for area adults through its book club, its hosting of genealogy classes and computer programming courses, and through its offering of fly-tying workshops.

“It serves the needs of many people in the area,” added Giles of the library, which bolsters local education efforts through its teen events, its Makerspace station in downtown Dillon to foster creativity and engineering skills in area youth, and its popular Books & Babies and Storytime programs for preschoolers.

“The Friends of the Library are taking the next step to make sure we will always have a library in Dillon,” said Sporich, who knows what it’s like to live in a town without a public library—a town like Augusta, which lacked a public library in her early childhood years.

“I have been reading since I was four, but there was no public library in my hometown when I was really little. My parents took me to Choteau and Great Falls to get books. And I would wait every month for the book mobile out of Helena,” recalled Sporich, who recalled the eventual establishment of a small public library in a “crooked little house with an uneven floor” in Augusta, where she joined the local library board at the age of 16.

“That floor would cause the book cart in the library to roll across it if no one was holding on,” recalled Sporich, who first encountered the sturdy structure of the Dillon Public Library when coming to attend the University of Montana Western, then still known as Western Montana College.

“I walked across the street and saw the gargoyles on the building and was mesmerized,” said Sporich of her first glimpse of the library building on South Idaho Street in downtown Dillon.

The gargoyles are among the many features unique to the Romanesque structure built with help from a grant from a foundation set up by Industrial Revolution-era billionaire Andrew Carnegie, whose acts of philanthropy included the bankrolling of more than 2,500 libraries, many of which sport the same design—a design far different than that of the Dillon Public Library.

“People in this town love this library, and they love the building,” said retired Dillon Public Library Director Marie Habener in 2012, when the library celebrated its 110th birthday of the structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sporich said the library’s unique and colorful history includes founder Mary Hooker paying for the installation of a unique turret room that Carnegie refused to finance, as well as the library’s efforts in recent decades to provide services for 21st-century members.

“This library has kept up with the changes in tech and de mands of what people expect in a library,” said Sporich of innovations in recent decades, such as its addition of computer work stations with Internet access.

“And it’s done that without losing core of love of books, helping people find books,” said Sporich, praising the library’s staff for its good-natured, tireless efforts to match-make between readers and books they might enjoy.

“All the librarians in Dillon are so friendly and so passionate so good about what they do,” said Sporich.

That drive and benevolence has endured through the shutdown to public traffic over much of the past month at the library, where staff have reorganized the book displays and continued to distribute seeds for local gardeners from its heritage Seed Bank during the coronavirus crisis.

The Dillon Public Library staff has also continued to plan for the future, distant and near, including its always popular Summer Reading program—an educational carnival of activities in past years that included film screenings, teen cooking contests, reading with dogs sessions, puppet shows, parades and so much more to help kids keep up their reading skills while on summer vacation from school.

“We will have some sort of Summer Reading Program this summer,” vowed Roberts, who initiated Phase I of the library’s reopening on Monday, April 27.

“I’m just not sure what it will look like.”