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Wednesday, 18 April 2007 00:00

What should a new library look like?

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The Sylva library is favorite destination for Kim Mathis and her four children. There’s just one problem.

“The library has been this same size since I was a child,” said Mathis, 39. “I just want it to be larger and provide more books and more things and more space. It’s just not enough.”

 

After years of debate surrounding a new Jackson County library, Mathis might finally be in luck. An architect has been hired, the county’s pledged money and a community-driven planning process has been launched to find out what residents want in a new library.

“We were so excited when we heard they were starting on this process. We’ve needed it for so long,” Mathis said. Mathis’ children were so familiar with the library, they dashed inside and made themselves at home on the computers and in the book aisles while Mathis lingered to share her wish list.

Rhonda Williams, meanwhile, had escaped to the library from the chaos of her spring break home.

“I needed a quieter place to come work. I’ll probably be here a lot in the summer,” Williams said. For Williams, a quite workstation to plug in her laptop and a wireless Internet connection top her library wish list with a reporter.

A larger children’s and young adult collection was on the wish list of more than one library patron.

Morgan Holloway, a 9-year-old from Dillsboro, said she sometimes has trouble finding books she hasn’t read.

“Lots of more books,” Morgan requested. Morgan wanted the children’s section to have multiple aisles like the adults had.

For Miguel Macias, 61, of Cullowhee, a new library should include a large magazine and newspaper section with comfy chairs for lingering and reading.

“I’d like to see a better collection of magazines,” Macias said. “I think whoever picked them picked them 20 years ago and they were never updated.” For example, Macias would like to see more outdoor magazines about camping and hiking given the popularity of outdoor adventure in the region.

Both Macias and his wife Jane, 58, simply want a larger collection of novels. While she was at it, Jane put in a vote for a better DVD movie selection, and audio books, too.

Public computer access was top on the list of several library patrons. One man visiting the library last week hadn’t been there in years, but had ventured in to use the computer because his computer at home was on the blink and he desperately needed to check email.

For Mathis, the computers are crucial to the education of her eighth-grade daughter.

“We don’t have the Internet at home. Having four kids we had to cut back and that’s one of the extras, but my daughter really needs it for school work,” Mathis said.

Mathis said there’s usually a wait and her wish list would definitely include more computers. She would like to see expanded children’s programs and a bigger selection of books for children and teens. And one last request: a wider driveway entrance that’s not so difficult to navigate with her minivan.

The decision about where a new library will be built appears to be on hold for now. The divisive issue has been blamed for holding up progress on a new library in past years.

There seem to be two top contenders. One is a two-acre tract adjacent to Jackson Plaza, a strip mall on the outskirts of Sylva near exit 81 off U.S. 23-74. The other is renovating the historic courthouse and adding on an addition to house the library. The county already purchased the land at Jackson Plaza, but many residents are not happy with the decision and some county commissioners have indicated the historic courthouse isn’t off the table yet.

Opinions from a random sample of library patrons last week were mixed. Mathis said she didn’t care where a new library went as long as it provided more space for books and programs. Anne Holloway wanted the Jackson Plaza site, believing there was more space there to work with. The Macias’ preferred the historic courthouse due to its proximity to downtown. They often combine a trip to the library with lunch downtown and a little strolling. In fact, that’s one reason Macias liked his magazine collection.

“I like to enjoy reading the magazines while she walks around and shops,” Macias said.

Karen Wallace, head of the Fontana Regional Library System, said developing a community wish list for library services and features through a series of community meetings scheduled for next week will hopefully help lead to a conclusion on the best location.

“Location and library services are really closely tied together,” says Wallace.

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