Archived Opinion

What would a library be without ‘outside influences’?

What would a library be without ‘outside influences’?

At the June 27 meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Bill Dyar was asked by Leah Gaston and the other two new board members for the opportunity to fully introduce themselves. Chairman Dyar agreed. 


I have included part of new board member Mrs. Leah Gaston’s remarks below:

“… And I want to be involved with our library because my family loves and values this local library. It is important that we keep the local and our local library (sic) and our library free of distracting outside influences.”

The local/not-local trope has permeated discussions about the library and its content for close to two years now and perhaps this is the moment to unpack this overladen label.

What constitutes “local?” Is it an idea or thing that has its origins in Franklin, or Macon County, or the three-county region of Macon, Jackson, and Swain which the Fontana Regional Library system serves? 

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How long must the idea, thing and/or person have existed within the subjective boundaries before it has become assimilated, no longer “outside,” and now worthy of being seen as “local?” Is it a year, the 10 years such as Mrs. Gaston and her husband have been here for? Is it my almost 61 years as a Maconian, as I was born in Highlands in 1962, in a building that my sister later converted to a multi-organization nonprofit center, a place where she started the Highlands Literacy Council about 29 years ago. Or, must one have been here seven or eight generations as such families as the Silers, Corbins, Higdons and others can attest? Or, must one be Cherokee and be able to trace back to a moment prior to the contact with English and Spanish speakers?

Or does the label “local” transcend geographic and chronological boundaries?

Mrs. Gaston implies that we should be vigilant, on guard against the intrusion of “distracting outside influences.” 

So, now we’re additionally stuck with puzzling out what “outside influences” are. And we are tasked with deciding what is “distracting.” And, if we are “distracted” by these “outside influences,” what are they distracting us from? In other words, what exactly are we supposed to be focused on? 

I am honestly baffled by the phrase “outside influences,” whether they be distracting or not, when the phrase is deployed as to best practices in library management. 

It’s a library. 

And if a library is to have any merit, any value, if it is to live up to its mission of being a collection of intellectual reflection, literary output, reference work and as repository of art, isn’t the summative value of the institution, whether it’s the Greenville County Library, the Macon County Library, the Vatican Library and/or the Library of Congress, largely dependent on the scope and depth of “outside influences?” It would seem strange indeed to have a general public library which confined its stacks, its curations, to be highly provincial. Even stranger, would be the provincial confinement to only reflect the worldviews, the perspectives, of a select few, some sort of stunted ideological beachhead or province within a province, so to speak.

The Macon County Library, indeed all of the Fontana Regional Library member libraries, have works of history, literature, science and art from every place on the globe. Are we to take these works within the current stacks as “outside influences” to be shunned?

Since the denunciation of the Macon County Library’s and FRL holdings and/or their categorization or shelving started approximately 18 months ago, we have heard “outside,” “outsider” and “outside influences” as epithets sneered in public fora. And within the same accusatory breath, the term “local” has been proffered as some sort of badge of legitimacy, a member of an elite or chosen. 

Libraries historically are all about inclusivity. Not exclusivity. The Macon County Library and the Fontana Regional Library have made tremendous strides in the direction of inclusivity. And this expansion of the circle of who counts and what sort of media should be offered by these institutions isn’t “promotion,” rather it is indeed an update to reflect what are the various interests and outlooks of people who live in Macon County and/or the three-county area. Indeed, that has always been the mission of public libraries. 

We could argue that our libraries in Macon, Jackson and Swain are now more local than ever and I hope the respective boards will continue to serve the broadest community possible, our community of law-abiding, peaceful citizens, of diverse interests, backgrounds, perspectives and dreams. 

(John deVille, Maconian since 1962, checked out his first book at the Hudson Library in 1967. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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