Swain embarks on new vision for old libraryWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
More bestsellers? A computer lab? Meeting space?
This month, Swain County residents will be asked what it is they crave from their local Marianna Black Library. The surveys are part of an assessment funded by a planning grant from the State Library of North Carolina.
Jackson and Macon counties went through a similar visioning process — and in both cases it led to brand-new libraries.
At the top of librarian Jeff Delfield’s own list is simply more space. The Marianna Black Library is barely 8,000-square-feet when the state recommends about 20,000-square-feet for each county’s main library.
“I think we could at least double the space and not really be outrageous about it,” Delfield said.
Parking at the Bryson City library is so limited that would-be library patrons have to scour downtown for parking spots blocks away or simply come back another time.
Another deficiency is a section devoted solely to teens.
“Teens have nowhere to go in this library,” said Delfield.
Delfield points out that while Swain’s library is a fine one, it dates back four decades.
“Swain County has changed a lot in 40 years. We have, I think, doubled in population,” Delfield said. “Even if we could put another story on this building, that doesn’t solve our parking problem.”
Delfield admires neighboring Macon County’s spacious new library. It features a common area with a fireplace around which patrons gather with books and laptops. There are also plenty of small meeting rooms where students can get together to work on projects.
He said he can imagine something similar at the library in Bryson City for the future.
Another of Swain’s neighbors, Jackson County, is set to open a new 26,000-square-foot library of its own, far larger than its current 6,400-square-foot building.
Both Macon and Jackson county libraries utilized the help of Ron Dubberly, the consultant who will now tackle the library assessment in Swain.
Jackson County librarian Dottie Brunette said hiring Dubberly was helpful in coming up with a blueprint for the new library there. She estimated that about two-thirds of the plan for the library resulted from Duberly’s work.
“You have to know what your community wants before you can start doing those things,” Brunette said.
For instance, the Sylva community was adamant that the library’s location remain downtown, which eventully won out.
Dubberly said most communities that go through the public assessment are eager to move forward with an expansion or a new building. Dubberly said the needs for space are obvious in Swain County, but the final say rests with the public.
“The first thing is you find out what the community’s needs are,” Dubberly said. “And you only know that truly by asking.”
Residents will be surveyed in early October to choose from a list of “service priorities” the library should provide. These priorities range from children’s story time to foreign language to genealogy materials.
Dubberly and library staff want to hear from people from Cherokee to the Nantahala Gorge and from Alarka to downtown Bryson City to come up with a library that will serve all.
“We want to reach people who don’t even come to the library,” Delfield said.
Dubberly will also meet with city and county officials, library board members, Friends of the Marianna Black Library and other stakeholders. He will analyze demographics and population projections before coming up with a draft plan for the library. Another public meeting will ensue before Dubberly presents the final plan to the library board and county commissioners.
The plan will address Swain’s needs for library services and also provide recommendations on space, furnishings, equipment, shelving, collection items and more.
Dubberly said even with all his experience, there’s no way to predict what Swain County residents will want from their public library.
“I just start fresh. I don’t have a cookie cutter,” Dubberly said. “Every community is unique.”
Want to weigh in?
Public input is needed to shape the future of the Swain County library, whether its an expanded children’s section, more DVD rentals or a brand-new library. Drop by one of the following sessions to share your ideas. For more information, call 828.488.3030.
Monday, October 11
• noon, Marianna Black Library
• 3 p.m. Qualla Public Library in Cherokee
• 5:30 p.m. Nantahala Village in the Gorge
Tuesday, October 12
• 10 a.m. Alarka Community Center
• 3 p.m. Bryson City Presbyterian Church
• 5:30 p.m. Marianna Black Library
• 7 p.m. Marianna Black Library
Wednesday, October 13
• 10 a.m. Swain Senior Center