Missoula library wins international award, first in U.S. to earn recognition

By: - July 26, 2022 6:47 pm

The Missoula Public Library was named “Public Library of 2022” by the International Federation of Library Associations World Congress. (Provided by Systematic and the International Federation of Library Associations World Congress.)

The Missoula Public Library won an international design award as “a library built for the future,” and it’s the first library in North American to bring home the honor, according to a news release Tuesday from Missoula County.

In a statement, Missoula library director Slaven Lee said the award “belongs to our entire community and is a reflection of the incredible investment Missoulians have made in library excellence and lifelong learning — a legacy that will be admired and enjoyed for generations to come.”

The International Federation of Library Associations World Congress in Dublin, Ireland, named the new library in Montana as the “Public Library of 2022” for its sustainable architecture with IT solutions, learning technologies, and local culture and landscape, the news release said.

Just one year ago, the regional library celebrated its new $38 million building, a project that was conceived roughly a decade earlier. MSR Design of Minneapolis and A&E Design of Missoula worked on the project.

The Missoula County Public Library pictured on December 20, 2020.

The Missoula library competed against 19 other entries representing 17 countries including Denmark, Latvia and Saudi Arabia, according to the news release and information from Systematic, a Danish software company and competition sponsor.

Lee said the library is “over the moon” about the honor, but she also has visited many other “amazing, innovative” libraries in the country, and Missoula’s stands out. The news released said it’s the first time a library from North American has won.

“This is just a really exceptional building with exceptional community support,” Lee said. “So it didn’t surprise me that we were the first.”

Federation jury chair Jakob Guillois Lærkes said this year’s field of new libraries was particularly strong, according to the news release. Laerkes noted the jury reviewed large and impressive buildings, innovative and sustainable solutions, and smaller meeting venues.

“But Missoula Public Library has it all,” Lærkes said in a statement. “The building stands out for its beautiful architecture that pays homage to the surrounding landscape while offering a wealth of possibilities and serving as a meeting place for the community.

“It’s a library that you would relish having in your own local area. It’s a library built for the future.”

Last summer, Traci Engel Lesneski, head of architecture firm MSR Design, said she pointed to the Missoula library when people asked her to describe the future of libraries because of the expansive way it serves its community.

For example, it houses multiple organizations under the same roof, including a hands-on science center for children that’s a project of the University of Montana, and MCAT, the Missoula Community Access Television.

Lee noted that new design “absolutely” has connected the library to more of the community.

“A big part of that comes from the fact that we have our all-under-one-roof partners here in the library,” Lee said. “That allows us to expand our reach in really innovative ways that I haven’t seen other libraries do.”

She said the library can operate in partnership with organizations that have a different mission but work in alignment, and together they have a bigger impact. For example, she said Families First Learning Lab has a reach and expertise the library doesn’t have.

“I just think this library and these partners are a real representation of what Missoulians can do when they come together,” Lee said. “That includes the community partners and staff. So I just think it’s really exciting to have this embodiment of what can be achieved in this really unique community.

“This award really supports that we’re doing something right here.”

The recognition comes with a $5,000 prize sponsored by Systematic. Lee said the library will use the money for future community engagement, such as more outreach, new programming, or services for people who might not be able to get to the library.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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