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Consultant will lead public planning process for library

What would you like to see in your new library?


That’s the question that will be posed to Jackson County residents in coming weeks as part of a community-driven planning process that will ultimately lead to the design for a brand new library. The current library in Sylva is old, cramped, and inadequate, according to most library patrons. A new library will hold a world of possibility, and it’s up to the public to weigh in now.

“We want to get the broadest participation throughout the county,” said Mary Otto Selzer, president of Friends of the Library. “Our feeling is there is a large sector of our community that are not actively using the library but would be if the library was adequate to serve a population of our size.”

The times, places and dates of community workshops, surveys and public input sessions will be announced in coming weeks. Library leaders are hoping for a big turnout.

“Every citizen’s ideas in a community have equal weight,” said Betty Screven with Friends of the Library. “We need a real good cross section of the population — age, economic levels, education levels, seasonal population and full-time residents.”

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“It’s everybody’s library,” said Sandra Burbank, member of the Jackson Library Board and Friends of the Library.

A professional library consultant has been hired to lead this community-driven planning process, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the state. Fontana Regional Library system applied for the grant at the request of the Jackson County Library Board. The consultant, Ron Dubberly, has performed similar work all over the country, from Key Largo to Salt Lake City.

Dubberly’s enthusiasm was contagious at a recent brainstorming session conducted with the Jackson Library Board and non-profit Friends of the Library where he encouraged the audience to dream big for now. Corralling all those ideas into a realistic plan would come later.

“I didn’t bring any cookies,” Dubberly told the group at the start of the meeting. “That’s because I don’t have any cookie cutters. Each community is different. I have no idea how this is going to turn out. None.”

Dubberly said the approach for designing a library doesn’t start with blueprints and building diagrams. Find out what the community wants in a library first, and then design the space around it.

“It’s the community needs, desires and priorities that drive the building,” Dubberly said.

The small group that went with Dubberly last week had a positive reaction.

“The session really made me think outside the box,” said Burbank.


A clean slate

Dubberly was hired in Macon County to help the community turn their dreams for a new library into a reality. There, the community went from the dream of a new library to a grand opening in just three years. It’s been a much different picture in Jackson County, where discussion of a new library has drug on for more than 10 years, marked by various controversies along the way, such as the best location and a library director patrons didn’t like.

Things appear to be looking up. Not only is a consensus-building planning process under way, the Jackson library in Sylva just hired a new director this week.

“We have a fabulous opportunity to start over with a clean slate,” said Screven. “I am so excited to be a part of this.”

Screven said it will be the consultant’s job to bring all the ideas under one roof — literally. His recommendations will include a library layout, from a toddlers story time area to a magazine and newspaper lounge. He’ll recommend the types of computer stations, whether it’s the basic computer terminals or perks like an audio listening station or digital lab where library users can produce their own pod casts to upload on the Web. His recommendations will even include collections the library should focus on.

Otto Selzer also is putting her faith in the process.

“Hopefully it will provide some consensus building for the community about what we want to see in a library and also hopefully a location,” Selzer said.

Consensus, a sense of unity and public inclusion will likely be critical to private fundraising needed to make the library a reality.

The county has pledged $4.2 million toward the construction of a library, but it will take more than that. In Macon, $1 million was raised to furnish the new library. A professional fundraising firm has been enlisted to lead the campaign, but fundraising could be difficult at this stage with the location still potentially up in the air and no building design to show people.

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