Current Library: A National Demonstration Building
The building that now houses the Darby Community Public Library opened its doors in September of 2004. Costing $900,000, the 5,000 square foot structure is a national demonstration building, showcasing a new type of construction featuring small diameter roundwood for beams and trusses. It was constructed using local contractors and suppliers incorporating as many locally made supplies as possible. The furnishings were manufactured by local craftsmen and made from area timber products.
It all began with an effort to construct a restroom for library staff and customers in the 500-square foot log building that had housed the Library since the 1950’s; this building is now the Town Marshall’s office. (See next section). Initial efforts quickly snowballed into a community-wide campaign run by a dedicated group of volunteers to build a new library that would serve the entire south end of the Bitterroot Valley.
The building opened debt-free thanks in part to Forest Service grants, including R1/R4 State and Private Forestry Programs and the Forest Products Laboratory, support from the Bitterroot Resource Conservation and Development Area and the Montana Community Development Corporation, all of which promoted and facilitated small roundwood utilization. In fact, the Forest Products Laboratory Director challenged the community to “push the limits on how small diameter roundwood can be used in the structural components of buildings.”
Additionally, there were numerous fundraisers and donations by businesses and organizations throughout the Bitterroot and Missoula areas. These local efforts, along with the generous matching challenge grants from a very generous resident family made the dream of building a new library for Darby a reality.
Described as the “Sistine Chapel of Small Diameter Roundwood,” the Darby Library is an inspiring example of what partners can do when they put their minds together. The Library Board worked with area architects and engineers to create a building that is not only functional, but also reflects the culture and heritage of a timber town that once employed hundreds in five sawmills, and the spirit of the many residents that contributed in ways large and small.
Today, the library continues to grow in community use. The library provides eleven desktop computers and five laptops for public use, a free meeting room for group use, free WiFi, and multiple book collections. Serving a population of 4,300 in a 1,376 square mile area, the library is the center for community activities.
Early Years: Library Began Services in 1921
The roots of the Darby Community Public Library extend back to 1921, when 12 Darby ladies organized a Literary Guild to establish a library in town. Later, the group currently known as the Darby Women’s Club, revived the idea and began offering books to be checked out monthly to community members. Sadly, for lack of a place to house the books, they were donated to the school in l938.
In 1925, Abbie Osborne, the Darby telephone operator and a voracious reader, began loaning out her extensive book collection to local residents.
In 1953, Marge Loper and Sadie Honey arranged for brightly painted bookshelves, shuffle board and nickelodeon to be placed in the Odd Fellows Hall, where teenagers were encouraged to meet and spend time. They put out the word that books were needed, and the community responded.
When a new fire hall was built, Mrs. Loper asked the Town Council if the old fire hall (a charming small log building) could be used for a library. Her request was approved. Naturally, the doors that allowed fire truck access were no longer needed. A new door and window were constructed that were much more suitable for library patrons. Books were moved from the Odd Fellows Hall to the new building by Marge Loper and Lenora Schrock. More books were donated by Abbie Osborne and the Missoula Library. When the ladies found they needed help with the bookshelves, they went to a local bar and recruited a couple of willing customers to strong-arm the shelving into the Library. The Library became official by action of the Darby Town Council in 1956. It was staffed entirely by volunteers and funded by a second-hand store.