Tattered library books
Vintage library books

Alma Smith Jacobs: A Published Librarian

Born in Lewistown, Montana, Alma Smith Jacobs (1916-1997) became the first African-American State Librarian for Montana. She and her sister Lucille Smith Thompson, a Montana State University reference librarian, collaborated on researching, compiling, and publishing The Negro in Montana: 1800-1945 in 1970, a catalog of resources about Black history in Montana.

According to https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/jacobs-alma-s-1916-1997, she “…received a scholarship to Columbia University’s prestigious library school, and she traveled back and forth to New York City, New York during the summers to take courses, earning a B.A. in library science in 1942. In 1946, Jacobs returned to Great Falls as a catalog librarian and later served as library director for the city’s public library from 1954 to 1973. During the 1960s, Jacobs was instrumental in the construction of the Great Falls Public Library building that opened in 1967.” Further, “A leader in the library community across the country, she was the first African American president of the Montana Library Association, the first African American president of the Pacific Northwest Library Association, and the first African American on the Executive Board of the American Library Association.”

Great Falls Public Library

She was the head librarian of the Great Falls Public Library at a time when Great Falls was segregated, according to https://www.greatfallstribune.com.

The Great Falls Public Library, located at  301 2nd Avenue North, has named an outdoor plaza after the eminent librarian and features her portrait in a mural on an exterior wall. She had spearheaded a reconstruction of the library in 1967.

According to https://www.greatfallslibrary.org/our-history, “Alma Jacobs, library board members and various groups throughout the city campaigned tirelessly for a new library, but voters rejected bond requests for the needed funds in 1959 and again in 1963. Although several studies completed over the years had shown the increasingly crucial need for expanded library facilities, it was not until 1965 that the voters of Great Falls approved a bond in the amount of $900,000 for doing so (the new library building was estimated to cost $1.2 million, with the remainder to be provided by federal funds).”

“I think a person, whether he is Negro or whatever, is entitled to his own life, without being dumped into a group with predetermined characteristics.” — Alma Smith Jacobs, vertical file, MHS, https://mhs.mt.gov/Shpo/AfricanAmericans

Great Falls has a population of approximately 59,000. During Alma Smith Jacobs’s tenure as library director, the city’s population grew from approximately half that number. The African-American population of the entire state of Montana was less than one percent.

Great Falls Public Library is the third stop on the Montana Author Adventures Trail.

Patricia Smart