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Humanizing the digital revolution

The digital age has challenged almost every industry to reimagine their service models. It’s not an easy adjustment. One local institution that’s consistently stayed at the forefront of innovation might surprise you it’s your public library.

 Charlotte Housel


ust like cutting edge libraries around the world, ImagineIF Libraries have evolved from a passive repository for knowledge to active spaces that light up our minds with programs, people, and unique experiences. Ever wondered why ImagineIF is inviting customers to run an obstacle course, ferment carrots, or build a house out of yarn? There’s always method to the madness. These are a few of the principles driving their 21st Century service model.

Hands On Means Brains On

If you visited the library in August of 2019, you’d have heard the buzz of power tools and smelled fresh sawdust. You’d see people of all ages huddled around a drill press on the floor of the library, making a bee home by drilling 6-inch deep holes into a lovely piece of larch from RBM lumber. Why? Because modern educational theory emphasizes that we learn through all of our senses, and that incorporating touch, scent, sound and taste into the learning experience lights up more parts of our brains and improves retention.

Hands-on activities like this occur on a monthly basis. Megan Glidden, Senior Librarian, explains how hands-on experience sparks discovery: “In the case of this activity, many people wanted to know more about solitary bees, what kind live in the area, how they differ from honeybees and the like. Others tried using a power tool for the first time, and found that they not only could do it, but they loved it, too!”

Holding Interest in the Attention Economy

Studies have shown that early literacy is one of the most profound predictors of future success. But technology has ushered in so many demands on children’s attention, from the endless scroll of social media to the firehose of advertising and entertainment blasting from the computers in our pockets. What’s a book to do?

If you’re a book at ImagineIF, you get a little help from staff who cultivate the unexpected in order to hook children’s attention and get them excited about reading. A great example is the new herpetology vet dramatic play station. (Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians; in case you’d forgotten.) “With working stethoscopes, an otoscope, thermometers, a scale, a microscope, a blood pressure cuff, and reflex hammers, kids participate in dramatic play while becoming familiar with medical equipment. And our faux reptiles are pretty charming!” says Megan. There’s a clear link between interactives like this one and increased circulation in children’s materials. “We bring them in the door with novel experiences, and send them out the door with an armload of materials. Every time we host a program or change an exhibit, circulation spikes.” reports Senior Librarian Sean Anderson.

Real Life Social Networks

As a small public library system, ImagineIF is vigilant about their budget. They have embraced automation in many ways to improve services and decrease costs. For example, ordering pre-processed new books lets them move valuable employee hours out of the basement and onto the service floors for face-to-face interactions.

Quality interactions with other people is one of a library’s most valuable offerings, which is why ImagineIF empowers staff to have meaningful, positive interactions with patrons. Gone are the imposing circulation desks and the late fees, which cost more to process than they brought in. Instead, you’ll find staff discussing recent reads, helping customers apply for jobs online, or dancing with the youngest patrons.

As the digital age increases social isolation, it’s more critical than ever to connect in real life. “For some of our patrons, I’m the only person they talk to all day,” says Deidre McMullin, Bigfork Library Advisor. That kind of personalized service can never be automated.

ImagineIF’s offerings are always evolving, and will continue to change to meet customer needs. So when you see ImagineIF rolling out something new, there’s a good chance you’ll see it in other libraries, too… in a few years.

Imagine IF Library branches are located in Kalispell, Bigfork, Columbia Falls, and Marion. Follow them on facebook and instagram to stay up to speed with the savviest group in the Flathead Valley



Photos: Mandy Mohler Field Guide Designs


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