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Wrong vision for Haywood libraries

To the Editor:

As an inveterate library user, a long-time volunteer at the Haywood Public Library, a former Board member of the Haywood Friends of the Library, and a former board member of the Friends of North Carolina Public Library (the statewide library support organization), I feel compelled to weigh in on the issue raised in last week’s article on the library in The Smoky Mountain News.

While I realize the reluctance of the county commissioners to undertake a $6 million project to expand the Waynesville library, I fear that the goal of County Manager Ira Dove and the commissioners is to so dilute the project by a desire to be penurious that nothing substantive will get done to improve our aged and inadequate flagship library.

Libraries are important in Haywood County, just like they are in every community across our country. The well-respected Pew Research Center concluded in their study on the importance of libraries titled “How Americans Value Public Libraries” that: “Americans strongly value library services such as access to books and media; having a quiet, safe place to spend time, read, or study; and having librarians to help people find information. Other services, such as assistance finding and applying for jobs, are more important to particular groups, including those with lower levels of education or household income.”

It seems to me that the last portion of this quotation may address the focus of the problem that the library faces with our county commissioners and Mr. Dove as they address the role of the public library in our community. I fear that they don’t understand the importance of having a great library to making Haywood County the kind of place that we all want to call home. Can you imagine the message sent to the world by a community by an inadequate library? It suggests a community that doesn’t care about literacy and a community that doesn’t value an inclusive and welcoming community center, which is what a good library is.

In the sidebar to last week’s article was the usage pattern for the library and a statement that 25 percent of the survey respondents never use the library, for very real reasons that could be addressed in improvements to the library facility and collections. 

More importantly, county commissioners need to think about the other 75 percent of the population who do use the library and accept their responsibility to provide the best possible library for Haywood County.

Forbes Magazine concluded in an article titled “Why Public Libraries Matter: And How They Can Do More” that: “… public libraries in America are dynamic, versatile community centers. They welcomed 1.59 billion visitors and lent books 2.4 billion times — more than 8 times for each citizen.”

Doesn’t Haywood County deserve libraries that are dynamic, versatile community centers?

Kent Stewart

Waynesville

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