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A 21st century library: Waynesville renovation to address public demand for Internet access

fr libraryHoward David Glawson was tucked in to his usual spot at the public computer bank at the Waynesville library last Monday.

He doesn’t have Internet service at home. But Glawson regularly walks to library, wheeling his oxygen tank down the sidewalk with him, to do all the things people do online these days. This particular morning, he was checking the status of an online order from Amazon, emailing a relative in another state, and researching doctors.

Nearby, an elderly couple was leaned in to a computer, studying and discussing a Fidelity retirement account statement on the screen. Two monitors down, a young woman was filling out an online job application.

Across the library, Teri Leigh Teed was piloting her own laptop at a worktable. She usually works from home, but this morning sought the change of pace the library affords.

“It helps me mentally to get into a different venue,” Teed said. “I can focus. It’s quiet. It’s comfortable. It’s conducive.”

The library has seen a huge rise in patrons looking for somewhere to plug in, especially given the slow and spotty Internet coverage so many in Haywood County face.

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“People are often sitting on the bench out front waiting for us to open in the morning with their laptop,” Haywood County Library Director Sharon Woodrow said. “One of the major functions of the library now is to provide that wireless Internet access for the community at large. But we don’t have the electrical outlets or proper seating areas for people to be able to bring in their devices and laptops to work on now.”

The library has always been the go-to place for public Internet, but it’s outdated technology and digital infrastructure isn’t keeping pace with the demand.

In a rural county where fast Internet service simply isn’t available in most places, the place people — from high school students taking online tests to job applicants doing online video interviews — turn is the public library.

But the library’s digital infrastructure isn’t fast or reliable enough to serve the need, Woodrow said.

“Haywood County has so many people who live in areas without decent access,” Woodrow said. “The Internet is one of our major functions.”

SEE ALSO: Timeline in limbo pending commitment from county | Proposed library expansion plan

The Waynesville library hopes to pull off a $1.2 million technology upgrade as part of a larger renovation and expansion that’s in the early planning stages.

Technology is only one piece of the total $6 million renovation that’s aimed at realigning the outdated facility to match the way people use libraries today.

“Many people think libraries are obsolete. But ours is being used more and more,” said David McCracken, a Haywood County Library trustee. “It has increased across all ages and groups, from youth to teens to seniors.”

The library collected more than 800 surveys from users last year to gauge where it is lacking and what people want. It hired a professional library consultant to analyze space needs.

An architect then turned the ideas into a concept drawing roughly outlining what the $6 million expansion and renovation will look like. The Library Foundation has paid for the work to date, totaling around $30,000, using private funds.

“The Haywood County citizens deserve to have their library be a fully functioning facility in the 21st century,” Woodrow said.

The slogan for the library renovation campaign is “Connecting the Community” — a message that highlights the role of the library beyond its wealth of books to lend.

“The library ultimately connects every single person that is in Haywood County,” said Christine Mallette, co-chair of the campaign committee.

The library campaign has three moving parts, branded as the three R’s: renewal, rejuvenation and renovation.

With more than 38,000 cardholders in the county, lending and loaning books remain the tried-and-true anchor of the library. Just ask Lisa Nadel, who was rifling through the shelves of cookbooks Monday morning.

“It is just a plethora of ideas. This opens up the mind and stimulates the creativity. I mean, wow,” Nadel said, whose latest hobby is playing armchair chef.

When it comes to books — the number, diversity, selection and sheer volume — the Waynesville library’s collection got high marks from the public in surveys.

“We do have enough stack space. We are not trying to get more stack space, but we are not going to cut it down,” Woodrow said.

As for the areas that are lacking? Pretty much everything else that a library is expected to be these days, Woodrow said.

The top-to-bottom renovation of the library would realign every inch of space and how it’s used and increase the total footprint with a rear addition that will push out the building’s back wall.

Upstairs, the additional square footage will house a new children’s wing — including a dedicated children’s activity room for story time, crafts and programs. Daily story times are currently held in the hallway of the library’s basement.

“As story times have grown, it is filling more and more of the hallway with traffic going in and out of the doors nearby,” Woodrow said.

The library is also a gathering place for families.

“Parents get to meet other parents and children learn to socialize. It gives children the opportunity to expand and broaden their view of the world as a whole,” Woodrow said.

Plans also call for dedicated teen and young adult section on the main floor of the library as well.

The expansion will address a chronic shortage of meeting space.

“The libraries are such an important part of the community for meeting places,” Woodrow said. “One huge concern that has been brought up and has been apparent to us for a long time is the meeting space in the library.”

The single meeting room at the library is often booked, forcing community groups and clubs to be turned away. It also limits the number of in-house programs that can be held — from movies and concerts to lectures and visiting authors.

The renovation would nearly triple the size of the meeting and program meeting space and create three flexible spaces that can be partitioned or opened up to accommodate different size groups.

The library is also crunched for space to curate and preserve local historical documents and photographs.

“We have started digitizing the history of Haywood County but we don’t have the room or the space to archive the history of Haywood County. That is a function of the library to preserve that history for the public,” Woodrow said.

The renovation calls for a larger historical archive and dedicated North Carolina collection room.

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