Sylva librarian resigns as of Jan. 31

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Jackson County Librarian Michael Cartwright will be resigning from his post by the end of the year, prompting the Fontana Regional Library System to begin a search for his replacement.


“He will be submitting his resignation sometime before Jan. 31 and that gives us time to search for a replacement for him and him to look for another position himself,” said Karen Wallace, Fontana System Director. “I think he’s looking for a position that he’s a better fit with.”

Library patrons have criticized Cartwright’s personal demeanor, as some said he lacked the warmth displayed by prior librarians and failed to foster a welcoming environment. Moreover, his resignation comes after years of turmoil in the library community as a war waged over if, how and where to build a new Sylva library.

At one point, county leaders considered an agreement that would have allowed for the construction of a joint library facility with Southwestern Community College. The proposal divided the community, with joint library opponents saying that the downtown Sylva library is a magnet for both locals and tourists, and joint library proponents saying that the new facility will increase services, collections and program offerings. Cartwright was an advocate of the joint library venture.

As for why he is now turning in his resignation, Cartwright said, “I just felt it was in the best interests of me and my family.”

The Jackson County Public Library has been criticized for being too small, structurally inadequate, and unable to provide the types of programming patrons are looking for.

But while some said that library services were not enough, others said that construction of a new facility would be a waste. Between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 budget years, the Sylva branch of the Jackson County library was the only library in the Fontana Regional System where user rates declined.

The reasons for this decline have been subject to interpretation — increasing use of the Internet and fewer library users overall, a too small library with too little to offer, or Cartwright himself. Former Fontana Regional Library System Director Gail Findlay backed Cartwright. However, Cartwright lost that support when in late 2005 Findlay announced her pending retirement.

“It’s been a kind of a difficult road for quite a while,” Cartwright said.

For now, Cartwright is looking for another job. He currently lives in Buncombe County and has been contemplating a move further east that would allow him to continue to work in libraries and his wife to continue her work with Wachovia.

Cartwright’s replacement will be charged not only with running the existing Jackson County library, but working with local patron groups to facilitate the construction of a new library. So far a site has been selected — Jackson Plaza on the north side of Sylva. However, patron groups such as Build Our Library Downtown have criticized the location as being too far away from downtown proper. County funds already have been spent studying the site for construction and design, although no formal library services plan yet exists.

“I’m sure that the effect on the library system will be minimal,” Cartwright said of his resignation. “As far as the plans for the new library, I can’t possibly predict how that will happen.”

Wallace said that the system has applied for a grant to solicit more community input using an impartial consultant. While site location inherently will be a part of those discussions, Wallace said that she hopes that the process can move forward.

Jackson County Friends of the Library president Mary Otto Selzer said that while the organization’s mission is to support the library regardless of staff, new library leadership, partnered with a new board of county commissioners anticipated to be more in support of building a new library, may help kick fundraising efforts into high gear.

“Often times change is a catalyst in and of itself,” Selzer said.

The target date to begin construction on the new library is still March 2008; however, Selzer said if that there needs to remain flexibility to push that date back in order to have an inclusive and through planning process.

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