Red Lodge Carnegie Library celebrates a century of reading

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, January 23, 2020
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Installation of a large Native American sculpture by Hungarian artist Peter Wolf Toth in 1979, on library grounds, to honor Native Americans.

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A year’s Library budget in 1944.

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Chambers nibble on odd “whale meal” in 1918, while discussing the site for original library.

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Families have numerous uses for a library. (left to right) Jessica Cooper with son Brady and daughter Jessica.

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Courtesy Photo
(Left to Right) 100th birthday celebration with Lee Cooper, Friends of the Library President, and Librarian, Jodie Moore.

The old classic style Carnegie Library would have a lot to say if it could talk as it celebrates the facility’s 100th year this month. There was a celebration at the library on Saturday, Jan. 18. 

Librarian Jodie Moore said “We had a steady group of people coming and going from the party, enjoying cake and beverages, etc. Many signed our guestbook. Some of the kids made birthday cards and some adults and tweens wrote in our Memory Books. Coffee Roasters donated coffee and Phoenix Pearl Tea donated hot tea. We also served sparking apple cider. It is nearly impossible to get good counts of events that have folks coming and going at different times, but based on the slices of cake served, the guest book signatures, and guesstimates by volunteers, it is safe to say that well over 100 people of all ages stopped by to enjoy the library's 100th birthday party!”

In 1912, the City of Red Lodge requested a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. The Foundation was the inspiration of Pennsylvania steel magnate Andrew Carnegie who founded over a thousand rural libraries. On June 11, 1914, the city received approval of the grant for $15,000 but it was delayed by World War I. Five years later they again requested the grant and it was received. In 1919, the building was completed and had its grand opening in January, 1920.

Imagine having no internet, no library and no meeting place for reading, conversation and inquiry. No place for kids to go after school to continue their learning. Members of the Womens Club of Red Lodge, founded in 1903, realized this gap and were determined to see change in their community. At first, they had a temporary library in the old Savoy Hotel, now known as the Olcott building on 201 N. Broadway. 

They started petitions to get the town moving towards the realization that their children were also a resource in need of support by a public library. This was not a given in those days where survival was foremost and most children had crucial work roles and heavy chores expected. Education was not at the top of the list in meeting a family’s basic needs. Many families came to Red Lodge and did not make it. But those that stayed, thrived, especially the families of businessmen and investors in the community. They were determined to share their good fortune by building a library.

The building itself is a gift to the community. According to Patricia Bick, State Preservation Office, “The Carnegie Library retains a high degree of historic architectural integrity and is a classic of its type. The loss of the tall original door and replacement of the windows of the front are unfortunate but the building retains primary architectural integrity.”

It was of “appropriate design” required to meet the strict standards of approval by the Carnegie Foundation. These requirements included simple massing; modest detailing, daylight basement for meeting room space, an open floor plan with stack on either side of the librarian’s desk.” 

The library serves many purposes. Single mothers or mothers simply homeschooling, know their children have a safe place to learn and find endless diversions. They have events for children of all ages, making them feel the library as a “welcoming place” at an early age. 

One mother, Jessica Cooper, loves to bring her children Greta and Brady and says, “I do a lot of home schooling! It’s nice to bring the children here and its resources!” Greta popped up, “I read Five Minute Stories of Princesses!” holding up the book she was hugging.

The original library, the first room you enter, originally contained less than 4,000 volumes. In 1992, due to donations by Mary and Herbert Koski and Leonard Koski (after Mary and Leonard’s deaths), the library was gloriously expanded with its full back room of 25 by 50 feet and expanded basement with its reading room. 

Interestingly, there have only been a few librarians at the Red Lodge Carnegie Library. They stayed for long terms. The list in time: January 1918 – December 1920: Mary A. Smith; January 1921 – December 1921: Elsie Wiggenhorn; December 1921 – May 1925: Mary A. Smith; May 1925 – June 1965: Marion Adams; June 1965 – January 2006: Bob Moran and January 2006 – present: Jodie Moore. 

By 2009, the books grew to 14,000 volumes and circulation was up to 32,751 a year. The “library population” was up to 5,083 users. 

Since those days according to the library website, the community relies heavily on its library these days. “In fiscal year 2016-2017, an average of 317 patrons visited the library each week. The library offered 149 programs for children, young adults, and adults, with a total attendance of 1,914. There are 15,286 physical books, 839 physical audiobooks, and 1,157 physical videos in the library’s collection, and patrons also have access to a statewide-shared collection of 19,384 eBooks and 12,992 downloadable audiobooks. The library maintained subscriptions to 22 newspapers and magazines. Including the downloadable collection, the library’s annual circulation in FY17 was 21,244.

By 2017, there were now 10 public access computers that were used an average of 135 times per week. According to the website, “The library’s free internet access continues to be highly valued both by locals and by the many visitors that pass through Red Lodge each year.” The circulation has grown as of 2019, to almost 22,000 with almost 5,600 in electronic content and E-materials as well. There have been 132 in and out of state Interlibrary loans to users. Having access to the Inter library system is a huge boon to earlier years greatly increasing access to customers of a range of library works. 

Programs and services include: Reference & Information Services, Test Proctoring, Federal Income Tax Forms, Public Access Computers, Wireless Internet Access, Printing, Copying, Scanning, Audiobooks, Billings Job Service Testing Site, Friends of the Library Book Sales, Preschool & Rural School Outreach, Storytime, Book Club Kits, Summer Reading Program, Interlibrary Loan, Special Programs for Children, Youth, and Adults, Public Meeting Space, Downloadable Audiobooks and eBooks, Community Announcement Board, Books, DVDs, Newspapers & Magazines, and Public Review Site for Local and State Documents.

Art is an additional presence outside and inside the library: Whether the metal statue of Ben Franklin by Jules Pilati inside or the wooden Native American statue by Hungarian sculptor Peter Wolf Toth installed in 1979, as one of fifty he planned for each state to honor the tribes. Events often include children creating art. 

The support continues. Instead of the Womens Club, The Red Lodge Friends of the Library provides supplemental funding for library materials and programs and provides volunteers for the Book Sales and the Library Gardens. The Friends raise funds through membership, donations, the Fun Run for Charities, and the Book Sales.

The Red Lodge Carnegie Library is unique in many ways. As of 2009, only 732 Carnegie buildings still functioned as libraries out of a total of 1,689 original libraries. 

This decade big changes again came to the Carnegie Library. There was a long awaited wheel chair lift for full handicapped access, and the library went solar! The little Library that could was now connected to the future with independent alternative energy to keep its engine of learning burning far into the future for generations to come.

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

Toll-Free: 800-735-8843

Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.