Flathead library workers say there are so many new people in the Flathead that libraries in Bigfork, Columbia Falls and Kalispell aren’t cutting it. They want to change that, and they showed NBC Montana a population study to prove their point. It shows a 60-percent increase in population in the last 24 years. Between 2000 and 2014 the population grew 25 percent.
Consultants used those numbers to analyze public library size. They say 1 square foot per capita is the norm, but libraries in the Flathead are down to an average of less than half a square foot per person.
"We get asked a lot when are we going to get a new library," said library Director Kim Crowley.
People in the library told NBC Montana that an expansion is needed.
"I think expanding would be a great thing for the community," said Kalispell resident Laurie Smith.
Smith and her daughter go to the library often to do research for school. She says it's sometimes hard to get the books they need, and are often times put on a waiting list.
"The waiting game is hard to do sometimes, when we need to get things accomplished for school," Smith said.
More space means more books, and more room for children’s activities -- also a big part of the plan.
"We'd like to have a bigger footprint, we need parking, we don't want to be on three floors like we are now because it makes for very inefficient delivery of service," Crowley said.
A graph in the master plan shows the increase in population over time, but the size of the libraries has stayed the same.
"We've been serving the Flathead Valley out of the same square footage since about 1974 and the population has doubled since then," Crowley said.
Up to 1,000 people a day visit the library in Kalispell. That number could soon double.
Crowley says she has tried to conserve space in the library by getting rid of staff work areas and putting in self checkouts.
Consultants think the other two libraries, in Bigfork and Columbia Falls, should do the same.
Some people who visit the library don't think an expansion is necessary.
"I like how the size of the library is small and comfortable. It kind of gives you that cozy feeling," said Kalispell resident Zulma Fernandez.
Even though Fernandez does see a problem with parking, she doesn't see a problem with the influx of people.
"I come here often and I have never come to the library where I have to wait in line or I can’t find a computer access. So yeah, the city's growing but I don't think it’s a need for such a big expense,” said Fernandez.
The project is estimated to cost around $22 million. The library hopes to fund-raise for a third of that and bond for the other $16 million.
"Raising taxes is not going to be palatable. So we want to do this as thoughtfully as we can," Crowley said.
The plan does not call for additional branches, rather moving three current branches to a bigger building.
Officials have to do a lot more work before deciding when to expand.