On the third floor of the Great Falls Public Library, you can learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of Great Falls, Helena, and many other cities across Montana.
The Montana Room is a collection of books, files, records and memories from the last 100+ years that are maintained by the Library and its staff, along with the Genealogical society.
“There’s more in here then you could possibly take in in a day or a week,” said Great Falls Publica Library Public Relations Coordinator Katie Richmond. “Just looking through the yearbooks would take you many days. Just looking for your relatives could take you a really long time, especially if you have a big family. The folks that work up here, they know how to find the information you're looking for.
From old school yearbooks to the “Original Journalist of the Lewis and Clark Expedition” to ledgers from the old Valeria and Carnegie libraries that once stood in Great Falls, it’s quite literally a history buffs dream.
Richmond says that seeing the contents of a room like the Montana room remind us of the importance of our history.
“If you don’t know where you’re from, you can’t know where you’re going,” she said. “It is very important to preserve this history. When we talk about the future, we often use that phrase ‘those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’ Some of our history we want to repeat, there was some really great stuff that happened in Great Falls, sometimes it’s not something you want to repeat, but if you don’t know what it is, you can’t learn from it, and up here you can learn from it.”
At a time when it might seem like libraries are become obsolete, Richmond disagrees. She says that libraries are more popular now than ever. She also says that millennials are using libraries more than any other age group, and those numbers are going up. Despite the fact that the majority of people now carry a mini computer around in their pockets all day, there are still things that a library can do that people need, even if they don’t always realize it.
“If you need to print out your taxes, if you need to apply for a job, if you need to look up what year your great, great grandfather graduated from high school, you can find that information at the library,” she said with a smile. “Great Falls has a long history of supporting its library, and I think that shows in the quality of life that you can find in Great Falls.”
And that’s not all. Public parks and other places where people can “exist for free” are some of the last remaining indicators of how well a community is doing in terms of the quality of life for their residents.
“That’s a really important thing to happen in our society where we’re spending more and more time going into basically narrower lanes with people in the same socioeconomic status as us,” Richmond said, referring to the existence of places where people from all walks of life can encounter each other without the barriers of demographics such as race, religion, wealth, or others. “Where towns get divided by what sort of house you can afford, and the kids go to the same school that’s in that neighborhood and then they go into the high school that’s associated with that neighborhood. Going to the library means that we see everyone, and that’s really important.”
The Great Falls Public Library is at 301 2nd Avenue North. For more information, call 406-453-0349, or click here to visit the website .