Montana State Library Responds to Recent News Articles
By Darlene Staffeldt
Montana State Librarian
While it is true that the Montana State Library has a few changes on the horizon, we are not closing our doors as you may have read in recent news articles. The Montana State Library will remain open to the public while working to significantly increase access to state archives by digitizing documents and making them available online for Montanans to more easily and quickly access.
The Montana State Library is a little different than your local public library. Our primary mission is to ensure that all Montana citizens have access to information created by their government. We also play a vital role supporting your local library by helping them deliver quality content and services to you. In addition, we strive to ensure that Montanans who are visually or physically handicapped are provided access to library resources.
The State Library has an incredible range of programs that touch virtually every Montanan - from our Talking Book Library that serves Montanans who are physically handicapped and visually impaired to our Natural Heritage and Natural Resource Information System programs that document the biological, natural resources and Geographic Information Systems data of Montana.
Another of our programs, the Library Information Services program, manages a collection of state publications, some of which date back to when Montana was a territory - over 100 years ago. Many of these documents are rare and in need of special care; in fact, in some cases we may hold the only copy in existence. We currently offer these documents for checkout and therefore risk damage or loss of these valuable Montana treasures. By digitizing these documents, we not only protect their historical significance but also make them available to many more Montanans - directly and through their local public libraries.
Until recently, the best way to access library materials was to physically check items out from the library. We still offer this service and will continue it until an alternative with wide support among Montanans is in place. If you happen to live outside of Helena, you can request documents from us through your local library using interlibrary loan, a process that takes only a few days.
However, with the increased use of the Internet, another option is becoming available. We are actively exploring a digitization project that will make our entire collection available electronically. This would mean that many more Montanans would have instant access to our entire collection. As materials are digitized, anyone anywhere in Montana would be able to read or download the material they want instantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Rest assured, however, that the need to preserve and provide access to original publications will not be left out of our planning process.
Digitizing the collection will also vastly improve one's ability to discover the information available. While print items are represented in our catalog by a few key words, a digital repository would be full-text searchable. Imagine being able to get search results for every instance of the term "forest fire" or "lyme disease" from every publication in our collection. Next, imagine having the results in your hands immediately.
To offer our entire collection digitally, we may need to implement a few changes to the way we do business. It may be necessary to change the way we use some of our physical space and reassign some staff. But, rest assured our building will remain open to the public.
We are excited about the possibility of making the valuable information we safeguard instantly available to all Montanans while keeping those rare documents safe and secure for future generations. As we move forward, we will be asking for your input and we ask that you give us your honest opinion. The State Library Commission will then make a determination based upon what is best for the people of Montana. For more information about the Montana State Library or the services we offer, please visit us at 1515 E. 6th Avenue in Helena, or view our website at msl.mt.gov.