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Jackson citizens asked to ‘imagine ... a library’

A coffee shop.

That’s one of the more unique but interesting ideas that emerged during a series of public input sessions last week for a new Jackson County library.


Borrowing from the Barnes and Nobles model, several workshop participants said they would like to see a library with a coffee shop run by a local vendor. The sky was the limit during the workshop. Ideas included everything from environmentally sensitive building design to a lending library of artwork.

“Imagine me a library. Think about what is going on in that library,” Ron Dubberly, a library consultant, asked the workshop audiences. “What kind of activities do you see? Who is using this library?”

“I imagine myself sitting on a deck in a rocking chair with the latest novel and a good view,” said Betty Screven with Friends of the Library.

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Others wanted a fireplace and outdoor courtyard. None of these ideas were at the expense of the basics, however. Participants called for the core library functions like children’s story hour, better audio book collections and more computers for Internet access long before the frills began emerging on the list.

The community-driven planning process will ultimately guide the design for a new library.

“Spaces in a library need to respond to your highest priorities,” Dubberly said. Dubberly said library use typically doubles the first year after opening a new library.

Nearly 150 residents from across the county participated in one of the five workshops last week.

“I love the process,” said Marsha Crites following a workshop at the Golden Age Center in Sylva. “It’s a good way to stimulate creative thinking. If you put each of us in a room individually we never could have come up with all these ideas.”

The workshops had a positive and upbeat atmosphere, but it didn’t stop some from being nervous about whether a new library would actually come to fruition this time, given the track record of numerous failed attempts over the past decade.

“I just hope we can take this information and get on with it, just get on with it,” said June Smith who lives in Little Canada. “We’re been talking about this for years.”

Sylva librarian Debbie Burnette assured Smith that’s the plan this go around.

“We’re going forward this time,” Brunette said.

There was one looming question at the back of participants’ minds, however: where will the new library go? Previous attempts to build a new library have ended in conflict over the location. This community visioning process is intended to build consensus on what residents want to see in a new library — including a new library site — but without mentioning specific sites themselves. Participants called for a library site that was downtown, had plenty of parking, had a good view, had room to expand, was easy to get to — but didn’t name names.

“We want to be able to present to the county commissioners that this is what the people of Jackson County want without getting into horse-trading on different sites,” Burnette said. “I think that’s one reason everyone got bogged down before.”

The two sites that are currently in the running are Jackson Plaza and the Jackson County courthouse. The Jackson Plaza site is located on the outskirts of downtown and would share an entrance with a strip mall. The Jackson County courthouse site would partly utilize the historic courthouse along with a substantial addition built onto the back. County commissioners will get the final say.

Irene Hooper from Forest Hills still wants to a joint library at Southwestern Community College. It was a top site contender at one point but the county has likely missed the boat on that option. SCC has an architect coming on board next month to begin designing a new college library, leaving the county virtually no time to get back in on a joint venture.

SCC isn’t the only option for building a library somewhere along N.C. 107 around Webster, Forest Hills or toward Cullowhee, however.

Curt Whitney said he “didn’t want to have to go through Sylva to get to a library.”

But several audience members — and not just those who live in Sylva — want the library in the greater downtown area.

Carlton Bostic of Glenville not only wants to see the library built in the downtown Sylva area — he wants bike racks. Bostic occasionally makes the bike ride all the way from Glenville to town for a trip to the library. After all that riding, he still wants to be able to walk around downtown and catch a few other errands before pedaling home.

Others calling for a library downtown simply liked having a destination downtown and reason to go there.

“I want to go downtown to go to the library. I want it in downtown Sylva,” said Jessica Philyaw of Cullowhee.

“I do to,” said Karen White, a mom in Cullowhee.

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