Major upgrades are coming to these 15 public libraries in Idaho to address community needs

Two will build brand new facilities, including in Inkom, which is served only by a bookmobile, writes guest columnist Michael Strickland.

September 6, 2023 4:15 am

The Idaho Commission for Libraries awarded $3.25 million to 15 public libraries in Idaho through its Facilities Improvement Grant. Funding was made available from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund. (Getty Images)

This fall, the Cascade Public Library will add 1,000 square feet of interior space and 1,500 square feet of usable exterior space. The library will add a dedicated media/telehealth room, kitchen space and two ADA-accessible restrooms. There will also be a separate children’s area.
Bear Lake County Library District in Montpelier will create safe, usable parking spaces on the library lot to improve accessibility and safety of parking for winter/year-round access and to resolve roof drainage issues.
These are just two delightful examples of results from the Idaho Commission for Libraries, which awarded $3.25 million to 15 public libraries in Idaho through its Facilities Improvement Grant. Funding was made available from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.

Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.

– Writer and producer Sidney Sheldon

The projects range in budget, scope and size. For example, a few libraries will use the grant funds to build expansions to their existing facilities, and two will build brand new facilities, including in the town of Inkom, which is served only by a bookmobile. This level and type of federal funding for libraries is unprecedented. The primary source of federal funding to libraries is the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which does not allow its funding to be utilized for library facilities projects.
The selection criteria for this highly competitive grant included the grant objectives and requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Of particular importance for this funding source was the need for projects to be substantially completed by August 2026, to address a critical community need, and to jointly and directly enable work, education and health monitoring.
Libraries were scored according to a rubric, and final selection of the projects was based on a number of factors, including the total score and how well all criteria were met. To distinguish between viable projects with similar scores and quality, additional consideration was given to geographic representation and distribution of projects throughout the state.
Other examples include Benewah County Free Library District – Tri-Community Library in Fernwood. Funding will be used to build a new library to replace an existing structure that is no longer functional nor meets the needs of the community. The Burley Public Library will build a 1,900-square-foot expansion of the library space and the remodeling of 600 square feet of existing space. The work will bring the library up to current building codes, create a new flexible-use community meeting space, and create two private study/telehealth rooms.
“I am so appreciative of this exceptional opportunity that will allow some of our public libraries to make significant improvements or additions to their facilities on a scale that has never been available before with federal funding,” said State Librarian Stephanie Bailey-White. “Staff of these libraries will be able to serve their community members in greatly improved ways, such as through innovations and safer access to and use of their buildings.”
I have been delighted with what I have seen during my library visits throughout the state of Idaho. Based on the needs of their local communities, public libraries loan a variety of items, including board games, learning kits, fishing poles and musical instruments. They also offer an array of support and services, such as help with an employment application or class assignment, resources for changing jobs or starting a business, health and nutrition assistance, and even being a local passport center. That’s why I was so excited to hear about these improvement grants.
The Clearwater County Free Library District in Weippe will improve accessibility and safety of parking for winter/year-round access; to install a generator to address frequent winter power outages; to upgrade the IT network infrastructure to expand Wi-Fi access; and to create outdoor seating with charging stations for 24-hour access to Wi-Fi. At the Elk River Free Library District, funding will be used to address various access and safety issues, including creating ADA-accessible walkways, installing some outdoor roofing/covering to allow for outdoor programming, and addressing the flooding and drainage issues in the parking lot that make it difficult and hazardous to access the library during the winter/inclement weather.
At the Emmett Public Library funding will be used to improve building access by installing ADA-compliant doors, adding a pergola cover to expand usable outdoor space and improve the usability of the 24-hour holds locker, and installing an awning over the meeting room entrance to improve safety and accessibility. Wilder Public Library District will remodel the library’s existing meeting space, which will include systems and electrical upgrades; remodel restrooms for ADA accessibility; replace the furnace; enclose the entryway for better accessibility; and create usable outdoor space for meetings and programming.
And there are several other libraries around the Gem State on the list of recipients. In this age of draconian decreases in funding, public libraries continue to be a sanctuary, a community, a public rejection of the notion that knowledge and vital resources should be contingent on what you can afford.

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Michael Strickland
Michael Strickland

Michael Strickland teaches for Boise State University and studies at Idaho State University. He is a visiting scholar at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity and Justice at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.