Director of the Fontana Regional Library system, Wallace stood proudly in front of a robust crowd on May 8 at the First Presbyterian Church in Bryson City. The event, dubbed “Honoring the Past by Building for the Future,” was a big day for the library system, and an even bigger day for the next phase of the town’s Marianna Black Library.
“A library is more than a place that works well. A library is, and should be, a public place, a center of the life of its community,” Wallace quoted from Our Singular Strengths by Michael Gorman. “And that library should embody the aspirations of the members of that community — not only through its collections and services, but also as a place that houses communal activities and the exhibits that feed the community’s hunger for art and enlightenment.”
With those words, the ceremony began. And at the center of the celebration were Don and Toni Davidson. The couple decided to kickstart the fundraising efforts for the new library by donating 9 acres of land and a check for $50,000 towards the future facility. The property sits between the high school and downtown on Fontana Road.
“The ball is rolling, but there will still be more challenges that will have to be met,” Don said. “Hopefully, with this, there are people in the right places that will rally together and overcome those challenges.”
From The Ground Up
Swain County’s new library has been pretty much a pie-in-the-sky dream for many years now. Between a lack of funding, community support and just meeting basic needs, breaking ground on a new building seemed like a far-off and distant prospect.
Based on studies done for what the county needs, a new library is estimated to cost around $5.9 million. That figure can be compared to the already-constructed cost of the libraries in Jackson ($7.4 million) and Macon ($4.6 million) counties. Until the recent land and monetary donation, the library system had only studies and structural designs. And though the Swain County Board of Commissioners has yet to officially contribute funds due to severe budget constraints, talks are in the works to make that support a reality.
“We’re collaborating with the county right now to find ways to raise funds, whereas the library before would raise its own funds,” said Chester Bartlett, chairman of the Fontana Regional Library Board. “There are many things in discussion. Traditionally, the county and the city are the landholders and they would fund the building. Our study goes out until 2030, so until we determine the size and square footage we need, we won’t have an exact cost at that point.”
“Hopefully we’ll continue fundraising and keep moving forward,” added Phil Carson, chairman of the board of commissioners. “[Don and Toni’s] donation will get folks to think about their hometown, their county and about expanding into future generations.”
Remembering The Past
But with all of this discussion about a new building, the donation announcement dinner didn’t forget the past — the decades of vital resources the Marianna Black Library has provided the county.
In 1929, Black and her husband Stanley, an attorney, brought library services to Bryson City and greater Swain County. Marianna would traverse the area with two suitcases full of books that went into circulation. After a couple of years, she received a shelf for her books at the county courthouse. A decade into her endeavor, a physical library was located where the current police station resides. In 1969, a new location was decided upon and a new library built, which still stands and serves its original purpose some 45 years later.
“I would like to emphasize that it took approximately 40 years for library services to go from two suitcases to a freestanding building,” said Swain County Librarian Jeff Delfield. “That building was [constructed] 45 years ago. We are still in that lovely building, but it is time to start building for the future.”
The Davidsons were well aware of the history of the library, which is why they felt the need to step in and help. Toni herself is a Bryson City native and knows the importance of having accessible education in a rural community.
“I’ve always been thankful that I was raised in Bryson City,” she said. “They say it takes a village: well, it does. I had good teachers, a good church and a good library. I had all the resources that I needed to go forward and be successful, and I want that for other people, too.”
Toni worked for Bell telephone systems in Atlanta for 31 years. Don is the president and CEO of Inglett & Stubbs Electrical Construction, one of the premier companies of its kind in the country, which works on large-scale projects in Atlanta and around the Southeast.
“The need for knowledge is evermore important as it was 40 years ago,” Don said. “A library isn’t just about initial education. It’s about continuing education, cultural education and community education — a place where anybody of any age can use it.”