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Thursday, February 11, 2016
One of the best segments of Sesame Street was called 'the people in your neighborhood' and it focused on the everyday people who perform amazing deeds simply by living their lives in service of others. I thought it would be fitting to honor one of these individuals and the organizations she is affiliated with. These businesses have not asked for this nor do they ever clamor for public attention or kudos. They do their jobs every day, without fanfare, because they understand that a community can only be as strong as its members who give back. It is my pleasure to tell you a little about the Flathead County Library in Kalispell.
Many of our residents at Samaritan House spend a considerable amount of their time at the library so I thought it would be worth a visit to find out, from the library's perspective, just how the daily influx of homeless people impacted it. I recently met with Connie Behe who serves at the assistant director to discuss the situation and left the conversation with so much to think about because what she is doing in Kalispell utterly transcended my idea of what a library is.
"We're done telling people to be quiet."
This was one of the first things she told me when I inquired about the atmosphere and services they offer. One of their goals is to remove the barrier between the staff and those who patron the library. You will not find the quaint little lady wearing horn-rimmed glasses with her hair in a tightly kept bun. Before our meeting, I wandered around to garner a feel for the place and it was a welcoming hub of activity and interaction and, dare I say it... noise? It was not chaotic and there was an order that permeated the building, but I actually felt happy to be there; it was almost like they wanted people there. Crazy.
My meeting confirmed my suspicions as Behe talked about the various programs they offer the community. Lifelong learning for all ages is a key component of what the library offers. Yes, people can come and use the internet for free. Most of our residents do this and it is a vital resource for them to search for employment as well as take online educational courses. But they offer so much more. The library acts as a living organism to help people of all ages to actively participate in improving their lives. Can they still check out books? Sure. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are programs for children and adults, as well as an area for teenagers, and quiet rooms for studying.
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked how the library felt about the homeless who have become regulars over the years. I have conducted enough interviews to know an insincere or rehearsed answer when I hear one. That's why it was pleasantly refreshing to hear Behe stress that the homeless who use the library were assets to what was going on. She spoke of how respectful and appreciative most people were and then she echoed a sentiment that is a long-held belief of mine:
"We trust in the better nature of the people we meet. It's important to us to treat people with respect and we try to make this a safe and comfortable environment with a sense of fairness. We want people to want to be here."
And I believe her.