One of the gifts my parents gave me growing up, although I wasn’t impressed at the time, was no television. Instead of watching TV, we read. We read a lot, and a visit to the library was a big deal. Today, I still don’t have a television and I feel a bit untethered if I don’t have a good old-fashioned paper paged novel on my bedside table next to my modern iPad.
Kalispell now has a unique opportunity to reinvent itself and an integral part of that should be a new library. This isn’t because of my passion for reading and libraries, but because a library can be the cornerstone of a thriving community. Today’s libraries differ dramatically from the ones of my youth. They have been redesigned to offer their patrons a plethora of information and activities. Libraries are a uniquely diversified place with open access to everyone. The facility itself should be linked to other community offerings, preferably ones that offer caffeine or alcohol, but ultimately, both. Today’s libraries are community hubs where people from all backgrounds come to gather to partake in its amenities. Our elected officials should be clambering to create such a welcoming space for the people they serve in our community.
One of the most important roles of elected officials, and the role, sadly, that they often seem least qualified to do, is to provide visionary leadership. This means that instead of focusing exclusively on the never-ending minutiae of the daily or weekly agenda, or lurking about girdling trees on our park land, they should be developing the vision for what would make our community truly distinctive.
To see what lack of vision will get us we only need to travel north on Highway 93 and plunge into the quagmire of ineffective and inefficient roads with cookie cutter development that appears to be based on blueprints from the company Anywhere USA, whose motto is, “Trust us to make your special place ordinary.” The best you can hope for is that while waiting in the interminable traffic queue it might be possible to see a distant peak in Glacier National Park.
Kalispell is not blessed with the natural amenities of our other towns and cities. There isn’t a lake, like Lakeside and Bigfork and Whitefish, there isn’t a ski resort and quaint old time Main Street like Whitefish, and it isn’t close to Glacier Park like Columbia Falls. With the redevelopment of the rail corridor, however, centered around a modern library, Kalispell has the chance to become a cultural destination for the Flathead Valley. Kalispell City Council should be moving heaven and earth to discover incentives, grants and other funding mechanisms to make sure a new library gets built. The Flathead County commissioners should be developing plans for a countywide bond for a new library and working closely with the Kalispell City Council.
The city of Kalispell is to be congratulated for acquiring the funding to redevelop the downtown rail corridor. Fantastic work! Now is the time to lay aside old grievances between city and county and focus on building the best library in the state of Montana.