Goats Can Eat Anything. GCEA. In case you have never heard this phrase before, it is an acronym used to remember the string names of a ukulele. You can even make up funny substitutes for A: Accordions, Astronauts, Anchovies.
Gathered in a spacious, upstairs room of the Belgrade Community Library (BCL), a group of about thirty people were learning the basics of playing the ukulele. Families, students, friends. It was a diverse group of people but all came with a single interest and desire to learn. A local graphic designer and talented musician, Marla Goodman was there with the assistance of her sister, the library staff, and lots of loaner ukuleles from Bozeman Ukulele Cabaret to teach us about the lovely (and thankfully easy-to-pick-up) ukulele.
This is just one of many events that are made possible through the BCL’s Learn Local program. Just like it sounds, it provides opportunities for anyone in the community to come learn something, whether that’s cyanotype photography, weaving, or how to play the ukulele. And it’s free! Although it’s a new initiative, it is quickly capturing the attention of the community and gaining in popularity.
Like most great ideas, Learn Local came about thanks to collaboration, coffee shops, and community. The adult services librarian at BCL, Keiley Mcgregor, had a vision for something that would engage locals through skills-based learning sessions where locals with unique expertise would have the opportunity to present and share their knowledge. An avid coffee-drinker and patron of the Spotted Horse Café in downtown Belgrade, she is continually exposed to local events, culture, and people. From the many interactions and relationships these opportunities fostered, she gained a greater awareness of the rich cultural opportunities that Belgrade has to offer.
At the beginning, those who came to present included a nationally-renowned guitar maker, Dan Roberts, a skilled horsewoman, Peggy Lucas, and a local educator and author of Denni-Jo and Pinto, Buck Buchanan, who taught the audience about ranch life through guitar-playing. In addition, Amaltheia Organic Dairy gave a presentation complete with a live goat and a chance for those in attendance to learn about the cheese-making process.
Partnering with the Bozeman Area Community Foundation
After receiving funding from the Bozeman Area Community Foundation, the BCL was then able to continue expanding their efforts. The library has hosted a cyanotype photography session with the incredible creator of Image Lab Photography, Zach Hoffman, an adventure-filled presentation about the genesis of the Idaho Boundary Trail by local legend “Yeti,” an intriguing seminar on military fiction by author and Recon Marine Peter Nealen, and a ukulele workshop with the wonderful Marla. More events to look forward to include a session with an expert on local weaving history, which will include miniature hand looms on which attendees can practice, and a resilience workshop presented by one of the library’s patrons.
Beyond Learn Local
However, this is only a tiny piece of which BCL plays a part. Gale Bacon, the library director, gives an example of what just one day looks like. There may be a yoga class in the morning, a small writer’s group meeting in the afternoon, a girl scout troop doing crafts, and a Learn Local program in the evening. Not to mention the many patrons who come in for more traditional uses, to check out a book, browse the extensive DVD selection, or even just read a newspaper. As Gale explains, the library has responded to the needs of the community by adding more and more to their calendar every year. What has always remained, however, is what constitutes the backbone of any traditional library: books and lifelong learning. Instead of evolving or changing, the library has grown and expanded, building upon the same blocks that have been in place since it opened in 1932.
If you are interested in helping out, conducting your own Learn Local session, or simply learning more, check out the BCL’s website or Facebook page, subscribe to their newsletter, pick up a flyer at a local business, or just give them a call!