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News Headlines

Set high on a mountaintop above Sylva, the historic courthouse has long been a focal point in this Jackson County town, attracting droves of visitors and professional and amateur photographers alike.

And with a just-finished retooling and addition of a new, 22,000-square-foot library annex to the original courthouse, many here believe this stately structure will play an increasingly important role in Jackson County’s economic future.

“It’s going to be huge, a huge draw,” said Mary Otto Selzer, a former investment banker who helped lead a drive by the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library to raise $1.8 million to outfit and furnish the new library. “It is going to be a destination.”

Selzer said tourists, even before the opening, have been showing up and asking questions.

“The (courthouse/library annex) has tremendous presence in Sylva,” Selzer said of the moths-to-the-flame pattern visitors are already displaying. “Location, location, location.”

The $8.6 million facility opened Tuesday, with the grand opening set for Saturday, June 11.



‘Such a draw’

Down at the base of the mountain from the courthouse/library annex is the Hooper House, another renovated structure in Sylva. Interestingly, in 1999, during one of the many attempts to figure out how to accommodate the county’s need for a new library, county leaders decide to tear down the historic house down. They were trying to find room for expanding the old library next door, but opposition to the destruction prevailed. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce now has its home in the Hooper House.

On this day, Linda Worley is manning the chamber desk. She is unabashedly excited about the renovations to the county’s historic courthouse, visible through the window over her shoulder as she talked.

“I tell every tourist who comes in here about it,” said Worley, a Kentucky native who married a local boy and ended up in his hometown via a protracted spell in Florida. Like Selzer, she believes the economic potential of the renovated courthouse and addition of a library annex for Jackson County will prove significant.

“It is just magnificent — such a draw,” Worley said, turning as she spoke to admire the building towering above.

Great attention was paid architecturally to the restoration and design of the old courthouse.

Macmillan, Pazdan & Smith, the architectural firm hired to oversee the project, used historic records to return the Jackson County Courthouse to near its original state. The building was gutted during a renovation in the 1970s, and almost no original features remained. The Madison County Courthouse, which by contrast retained its original character, served as a model.

C.J. Harris, a prominent industrialist and wealthy Sylva businessman, bankrolled the $50,000 project in 1914 in return for the county seat being moved from Webster to Sylva. He also used the Madison County Courthouse as his inspiration.

Newly returned to its former glory, the Jackson County courthouse is devoted to providing space for the community, and includes an approximately 2,500-square-foot courtroom available for almost any type of function or meeting. Office space for the county’s arts council and genealogical society also are provided in the old building.

A giant addition built to the rear houses the new library. A glass atrium connects the two, serving as the entrance to the complex. The children’s section alone is larger than the entire old library it replaces.

The importance of community continues being melded into the new structure as well. Along with a continuity of design — which Selzer accurately describes as virtually “seamless” — endless efforts are being taken to weave ties to residents. June Smith, president of the Friends of the Library group, is in charge of one of those initiatives: “Jackson County Collects,” exhibits of the community, will be prominently highlighted in a built-in display area. For the opening, Jackson County resident Dot Conner’s apron collection has garnered the coveted spot.


Planning and leadership

The Friends’ successful fundraising campaign caught the attention of other groups in the region looking for methods of raising money during these tough economic times. Betty Screven, who is in charge of publicity for the group, said the keys were planning and leadership.

“This was a professionally run campaign, even though none of us had (significant) fundraising experiences,” Screven said.

Originally, commissioners asked for $1.5 million to be raised. Then the number went to $1.6 million. Ultimately, as previously mentioned, the group brought in $1.8 million. Money left over will go toward a library endowment fund to help pay for future needs.

To Screven, the most important contributions were in many ways the smallest gestures made  — she chokes up as she remembers the day she was working at the Friends of the Library’s used bookstore on Main Street, and a little girl came in, accompanied by her father, clutching a $1 bill.

“This was her allowance for the week — she came in, and said she wanted to give her $1, because someone else would then give a match of $1, too,” Screven said. “This library is truly for everybody in the county.”

That match was critical to the success of the campaign, and came about as the result of a $250,000 State Employees’ Credit Union matching grant.

“It was very inspirational to people,” Screven said, adding the grant came with the condition the building had to be 90 percent completed, which helped add concrete deadlines to the project.

A core group of about five people saw the project through, with endless help from others, said Screven, a former public-relations employee for two decades for a national bank. The official fundraising effort began in May 2008.

“It has been practically a full-time job for the core people,” said Screven, who after questioning by her sister estimated she was putting about 35 hours a week into the project.

The Friends group used the services of professional fundraisers for a few months to get the feel and structure in place, then took over without them.

“We put the right people in the right jobs,” Screven said.


What people are saying

“The past and the future of our county are visible on the hill.”

— Sue Ellen Bridgers, Jackson County resident and writer, the state’s former poet laureate

“It represents the history of Jackson County. It represents the glory and beauty of learning. It represents the literary heritage of the world. The other thing it represents is the absolute freedom to anyone who wants to come and enjoy what has become theirs.”

— Dr. John Bunn, Co-chairman of the Friends of the Library Fundraising Committee

“The public library was one of my reasons for choosing Sylva as my home in 1986. Our local area is filled with people I like to call ‘frequent readers’ because their wallets include a card for each unique library system. All of us frequent readers are eager to use the new Jackson County Public Library as a research source, a place to browse quality novels, attend community events, learn about regional history, and enjoy the revitalized courthouse complex. The public library has come such a long way. My hat’s off to all the library staff and friends.”

— Dianne Lindgren, library director, Holt Library at Southwestern Community College

“I think it’s an inspirational project that’s kind of taken on even more meaning as the project has proceeded. It’s a great example of what can happen when a community gets behind a project like that.”

— William Shelton, farmer and former Jackson County commissioner, who played a critical role in keeping the library downtown

“I was so happy when the county commissioners decided to renovate the courthouse and build an addition for the library. I knew it would be a huge asset to the town of Sylva, since the courthouse is such an icon for the town. But it also showed a lot of foresight for Jackson County, which will be elevated by the addition of not just a new library (which would raise the quality of county services a notch no matter where they located it), but one that is so unique and special in nature. The combination of modern library amenities with the historic preservation of the old county courthouse shows a local commitment to education, culture, history, and community. I feel so fortunate to live in a community that can embrace the unique, rather than shy away from it. Jackson County is special that way, even though we sometimes struggle.”

— Sarah Graham, former Town of Sylva commissioner, now employed by the Southwestern Development Commission

“‘Going to the library’ always meant an event to me, starting back when I was a toddler. It was even more exciting when the event came to us on wheels as the bookmobile. As an adult I learned that the library could be a meeting place for special events and programs ... and, on ARF days, you could even go home with furry little four-legged reading companions. But now, taking in all the splendor of the courthouse complex, I think going to the library will be a cultural experience, as well as a literary experience.”

— Rose Garrett, former staff writer at The Sylva Herald and now public information officer for Southwestern Community College

“The courthouse is for me the symbol of Jackson County. It defines Sylva now as it did when I was growing up (and when I was born in the old hospital located only a few hundred yards up the hill from the courthouse). It has gone through changes, from red brick to white, from a line of trees in front to a landscaped hillside, but it is still “the courthouse.” Whenever I see someone standing in (literally “in”) Main Street of Sylva trying to frame the building and, as one architectural guide noted, that cascade of steps, I’m reminded of how special it is.”

— George Frizzell, university archivist for Western Carolina University

“My mother, who’s the reason I’m a librarian, is hugging herself somewhere.”

— Jackson County Librarian Dotty Brunette

Sylva leaders want their Jackson County counterparts to lease, for $1 a year, the old library building to them, citing space needs and a heightened Main Street presence for the town’s police department.

The Sylva library is in the process of moving to a building beside the newly renovated, historic Jackson County courthouse. The grand opening is set for next month. This comes as Sylva’s 15-member police department jockeys for space in 1,000 square feet the town can allot to it. The Sylva Police Department is next to town hall on Allen Street, several blocks from the downtown.

Lack of space “makes it very difficult to investigate cases, interview witnesses and interrogate suspects,” town board member Chris Matheson, a former assistant district attorney, told county commissioners at a meeting this week. “It is imperative at this point we try to find a location for them.”

County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said they’d consider discussing the town’s request during a budget work session next week.

The town has eyed the former public library for a police department at least since the spring of 2009. Then Police Chief Jeff Jamison contacted then County Manager Ken Westmoreland at the town board’s request. Westmoreland told Jamison the county would be willing to sell or lease the building, but didn’t specify the town’s cost for either of those options.

That was then, and this is now: Jamison is gone, Westmoreland is gone, and a new majority of commissioners took control in last November’s election. It’s unclear what they want to do with the old library building, if they even know, at this juncture, themselves.

Matheson characterized the town’s desire for the centrally located building as something of an “equity issue.” She pointed out Sylva shares 50 percent of its ABC revenues with the county. A vast number of cases investigated by the town police involve people who have been drinking alcoholic beverages, Matheson said.

ABC dollars totaled $139,890 this year alone in revenue gains for Jackson County.

“What have we done that makes Sylva want to be so good to us?” Commissioner Joe Coward asked Matheson about the town’s willingness to share the ABC wealth.

The councilmember responded she believes Sylva simply didn’t — at least initially when it agreed to share the wealth — realize how significant the revenue stream would prove. After voters approved the sale of mixed drinks at bars and restaurants in a 2005 referendum, sales at the Sylva ABC store went up more than 40 percent.

This 50-50 split between a town and county is an unusual arrangement, Matheson said, and is mirrored by just five or so other municipalities in North Carolina.

Franklin keeps 100 percent of its ABC revenues; Bryson City keeps 90 percent and specifies the remaining 10 percent go to parks and recreation; Waynesville keeps 64 percent and gives 18 percent to the schools, and the remaining 18 percent is funneled into Haywood County’s general fund.

Matheson, drawing on her legal skills to weave a persuasive sticky web commissioners might find difficulty disentangling from, continued gently but firmly pressing for the coveted downtown space. She pointed out that Sylva officials were kind enough to rent to Jackson County a town-owned building for use as a senior-citizen facility — $1 a year for 15 years, and before that, for free. And, additionally, the town provided a building to house the chamber of commerce — again, Matheson noted, free of cost to the county.

What the town offers in return for the old library building, Matheson said in summation during her closing argument, is an opportunity to protect and serve all the residents of Jackson County who come, in large part, to conduct the county’s business in Sylva. And that could best happen if the space-crunched police department is in the old library; for, she said, a nominal fee a year accompanied by a long-term lease consisting of at least 25 years. And the town will even pay for renovations and repairs, which she estimated could total $150,000, Matheson said, adding a possible enticing carrot.

County commissioners thanked the town board member for her presentation, but did not commit one way or another to her request.

Carl Iobst, a regular member of the public at county meetings, told commissioners during the public-comment session that he wants the town to reimburse the county “a fair and reasonable amount” for the building, saying in these fiscally trying times, $1 a year is too little an amount for such a prize.

For Jackson County’s book-loving residents, the temporary closure of the public library in Sylva presents true hardship, a time of doing without and intense, shared community pain.

The current library on Main Street closes May 2 while some 40,000 items are toted up the hill to a grand new library beside the renovated, historic courthouse. The library will boost its opening day collection with 24,000 new books, DVDs, audio books and other materials — even portable audioplayers that come pre-loaded with audio books.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for June 11.

Recognizing the dangers of widespread reader deprivation, Jackson County’s librarians, bookstore owners and others have taken steps to help during this long public library drought.

Library cards are available at Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University, both located in Jackson County. The Fontana Regional Library card possessed by every Jackson County library user is universally recognized in libraries in Cashiers, Highlands, Franklin, Bryson City, and if you are desperate and don’t mind a really long drive, in the Nantahala community, which has a tiny book facility of its own.

Friends of the Library is laying out the welcome mat at its Main Street bookstore, as is City Lights Bookstore’s Chris Wilcox, who nobly noted, “I’m staying open long hours … of course we do that anyway,” he said.


New assistant librarian

Just in time for a new library, there’s a new assistant librarian in Jackson County: Elizabeth “Liz” Gregg, from Radford, Va., has joined the staff. She graduated in 2008 from UNC-Chapel Hill’s information and library science master’s degree program. Gregg spent two years working in the Piedmont area of the state.


Need a book fix?

Librarians at Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University are prepared to welcome the deprived public-library folks into their institutions. Though, it must be admitted, you might find the general fiction a bit lacking when compared to the choices at a public library. The collections, after all, are geared toward academia. But don’t be intimidated! This is a fine time to take on those classics you’ve neglected to read, or to perhaps to peruse a riveting academic journal or something along those lines. A library card at SCC is free; one at WCU costs $10 a year, you need a driver’s license for proof of residency. Additionally, SCC, keep in mind, in particular is geared toward working-aged students, who rely on the library as a place to get away from home for quiet study. That said, “We’re glad to be able to help people,” SCC Library Director Dianne Lindgren noted.


Rely on the library for Internet access, what to do now?

Well, you can ride up and down Main Street in Sylva and find laptop WiFi hotspots, or you can head to Southwestern Community College’s Holt Library and Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library. Frankly, you’re better off at WCU, which has more computers available. Dean Dana Sally said he’s happy to have the university library help out. “A lot of community members — probably 300 — already use our library,” Sally said. “Maybe this will create an uptick.”  


Got book donations?

Don’t throw those old books away! With the library closed, Sandra Burbank, who oversees the Friends of the Library’s Used Bookstore, is urging folks to bring them directly to the store (on Main Street, so you can pick up bread at the same time a few doors down at Annie’s Naturally Bakery, or stop on the way and get a cup of coffee at John’s place, Signature Brew Coffee Company). “At the same time,” Burbank cleverly added about book givers, “they can take a look around the bookstore.” And, she hopes, buy something, which, after all, goes to help fund the new library.


Want to join in the fun?

Then become a volunteer — Jackson County even has a new library volunteer coordinator, Jeni Silver, who is currently accepting applications. The jobs include tour guides, greeters, shelvers, book repairers, book coverers, patrolling and facility monitoring (in short, all the dirty work we really don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars having staff do). Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or snail mail to: Volunteers, P.O. 1122, Dillsboro, N.C. 28725.


Library recruits readers to help

Jackson County’s library has encouraged patrons to check out as many books as they want — boxes of them, carloads of them, moving vans full of them — to help potentially deprived readers during the library closure and to help the library: because, of course, it then will have fewer to move.

Darlene and Isaac Melcher, children Bela, age 1, and Audrey, age 3, took advantage of the library’s largesse one day last week. The couple filled a diaper box and a cloth bag with children’s books, from 60 to 100, in expectations of a month at least without access to the children’s collection.

“They love being read to,” Darlene Melcher said. “They like story time.”

Of course, while Bela is big on pictures Audrey has recently moved on to enjoying a read-aloud narrative, meaning two sets of books instead of one were necessary to sustain the young family.

With Jackson County set to take possession next month of the renovated historic courthouse and new library, commissioners agreed it’s high time to get some ground rules in place for their future tenants.

The county wants formalized agreements not only with Fontana Regional Library, but also with three nonprofits promised space in the historic courthouse: the arts council, genealogical society and the historical society, so that there is “a written understanding on how that building would be used,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said, “and no misunderstandings.”

Jackson County has been grappling with how to pay for the extra overhead associated with the new and bigger library, plus the renovated historic courthouse, in this time of budget restraints. Bigger heating and cooling bills, higher liability insurance and more janitors could cost the county an extra $70,000 to $90,000, Wooten estimated previously.

The three community groups offered space in the historic courthouse had not been asked to share in overhead previously.

“Their understanding is there was no expectation on them to compensate the county in anyway for the space they occupied,” Wooten said of discussions he’s had with those groups involved, adding that he’s putting together a usage and utilities reimbursement proposal based on square-footage usage.

Wooten also raised concerns about liability insurance.

Commissioners agreed that Doug Cody, Mark Jones and Wooten would meet with the other parties involved to reach an understanding.

In other library-related news, Wooten said the county would use a moving company to cart the books and other items from the old building to the new library.

Where is the new library located?

The new Jackson County Public Library Complex is located at 310 Keener Street in the renovated and expanded historic courthouse at the west end of Main Street in downtown Sylva.


When will the new library be open?

Construction on the complex is scheduled to be completed sometime in April, 2011. It is anticipated that it will open to the public in May or June.


What will be the hours of operation for the new library complex?

The hours of operation will be determined based on the amount of funding available from Jackson County.


Why was the historic courthouse site chosen?

There was strong public sentiment to keep the library in downtown Sylva. The historic courthouse was an unused building in downtown. It was decided that the best alternative for saving the courthouse was to incorporate it into the new JCPL Complex. This allows us to honor one of the most recognized symbols of Jackson County by making it part of one of the most important institutions – the public library.


Who had the vision to save the historic courthouse?

Members of the community initially suggested the idea of incorporating a new library into the historic courthouse.  In October, 2007, the Jackson County Commissioners voted to incorporate a new expanded library into the 1914 historic building and the surrounding grounds.


What will be in the historic courthouse?

The ground floor will house the Genealogical Society, the Historical Association’s museum, a Conference Room, a vending area and built-in display cabinets. The second floor will feature the former courtroom as a multi-purpose Community Room with seating for over 150, the Arts Council’s office and a catering area.


How long did it take to renovate the courthouse and to build the new addition?

Work began on the renovation and the construction in May 2009, almost two years ago.


How much did the new library and courthouse renovation cost the county and how will it be paid for?

The budget for the new complex is approximately $8.6 million.  The County Commissioners asked the community to raise $1.5 million of this budgeted amount. The remaining $7.1 million is being paid by the county.


How much money was raised by the community?

As of the end of February, 2011 the community has raised over $1.8 million.  This includes $100,000 pledged to cover all the costs associated with the fundraising efforts.


When and how long will the old library be closed to pack up and move?

The current library will be closed for approximately one month in order to facilitate the move up the hill.  During this time the public will not have access to the library building, its collection and its computers.  We apologize to all our customers who will be inconvenienced during this time particularly all of the students who regularly use the library after school.


Who owns the Jackson County Public Library Complex and who owns the contents within the building?

The building and grounds belong to Jackson County. The furniture, fixtures, equipment and media materials belong to the Fontana Regional Library.


What will happen to the building where the current library is housed?

The building belongs to Jackson County. The county officials will determine its future use.

Will there be more parking at the new complex?

There will be a significant increase from the 16 spaces at the current library. There are additional parking spaces in the immediate vicinity along Keener Street adjacent to Bicentennial Park. Once the facility has been completed it is expected to be included on the regular route of Jackson County Transit.


How many items will be in the collection when the complex opens its doors?

The library staff will move over 40,000 items to the new facility. Approximately 24,000 new media items - books, DVDs, books on CD, and Playaways have been ordered - including 18,000 items for adults and 6,000 items for our young people.


How many computers will be in the new library?

There will be 16 in the computer lab, four in teen area, both upstairs, and eight in the children’s area, downstairs. These are public access computers.  There will also be several laptops and netbooks available for checkout for use in the library.


How will the new library complex serve the needs of our community?

The library will create a lifelong learning experience with its expanded collection, increased number of computers, and broader offering of programs. Customers will have the resources they need to explore topics of personal interest, access databases for reliable information, use computers to – check e-mails, find and fill out a government form, write resumes, compile a business plan for a new business, complete a homework assignment or compose a poem.  Individuals can sit and enjoy the company of others or find a quiet spot to read and reflect. There will be something for everyone.


What will be available for children and teens?

The Children’s Area, across from the main circulation desk, will be alive with materials, colors, displays, and programs focusing on early learning skills. There will also be a spacious storytime room with a big screen TV and a colorful floor. It will be the largest public space on the first floor of the new building.

On the second floor of the new addition there is an area designed by and dedicated to serving teens.  There will be four computers, booths for use when working on group projects and WiFi throughout the complex. And, for the first time, there will be programs geared to teens.


What meeting, event and conference space is available within the library complex?

There are a number of spaces available for the community to reserve for use. The Conference Room will seat 12 – 14, the Community Room, a multi-purpose room, will seat between 100 – 150 people. The Atrium, and the outdoor terrace and courtyard can also be reserved for special events.

Smaller spaces, which will not require reservations, will be available. There are three group study rooms which will seat eight people, two tutor rooms which are designed to accommodate two people, as well as comfortable seating, tables and chairs throughout the new addition.


How do I reserve space within the library, what is the cost and can they be used after hours?

To reserve space at the complex call the library to make a reservation.  To finalize your reservation you will need to come in and complete a “Meeting Space Contract”.  This document will outline the terms of the use agreement.

There is no cost to use space within the complex for library programs and community or non-profit groups.  For-profit organizations and groups holding private functions, such as business meetings, luncheons, weddings and parties, will be required to pay a fee. The price structure is outlined in the “Meeting Space Contract”.

If the meeting or event is scheduled after hours, a key will be issued to a registered library card holder.


Is there a public address system for use in the Community Room and other spaces?

In the Community Room there is a state of the art sound system installed, along with high tech audio visual and computer equipment. The lectern will have built-in computer outlets so that personal computers can be used from the lectern. A portable sound system will be available for individuals and groups to use in other parts of the complex.


What happens if I want to serve food at an event such as a party or reception?

The library complex has a catering area where food can be warmed or kept cold before it is served at events throughout the complex.


Will there be tables available for use during events held in the complex?

There will be tables in various sizes which can be configured in a number of different ways. Freestanding chairs will also be available for up to fifty. Tablecloths will not be available.


May I serve alcohol at my special event?

The Jackson County policy is not to allow alcohol to be served or consumed in any county-owned building.


How many new jobs will be created at the new library complex?

It is not possible to answer this question at this time. Jackson County, the primary provider of library funding, is in the process of reviewing budget requests. County officials are aware that there will be additional costs associated with operating a facility four times the size of the current library. The county decisions about funding are predicated, in part, on the county’s funding from the state. Additional information will be forthcoming.

Two new positions have been approved and the positions filled – an assistant county librarian and an information technology assistant.


Who will be responsible for maintaining the spaces within the complex?

Housekeeping and maintenance of the facility will be provided by Jackson County.  Individuals or groups who use the spaces within the facility must follow the guidelines for room usage.


What happens when we outgrow the 26,000 square foot library? Is there room to expand at the courthouse site?

The 2007 JCPL Service Priorities and Facilities Plan recommends building two branch libraries of 5,000 square feet each by 2015 to accommodate our growing population.


How can I help?

Community volunteers will be needed to help with various tasks throughout the library complex. Volunteers will be key to the successful operation of the new library. A volunteer coordinator will match volunteers with opportunities. Those interested in volunteering should contact Jeni Silver at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


May I donate collectible books and other items to the new library?

Individuals wishing to make donations of materials to the library need to discuss this opportunity with the county librarian. Books which are considered highly collectible may be appropriate to place in the library’s Genealogy Room. If the book donations cannot be used in the library, materials will be given to the Friends of the Library Used Book Store to be sold. All the profits from the bookstore benefit the library.


Is the Friends of the Library Used Book Store going to close and move to the new library complex?

The Friends of the Library Used Book Store will remain at its current location on Main Street in Sylva. The Friends of the Library will maintain a small office in the library complex.


I use the Internet at the library. When the library is closed, where can I go to access the Internet?

Patrons can go to other libraries within the Fontana Regional Library system. A list will be compiled and shared with the public listing alternative facilities offering public access to the Internet in our area. For people who have their own laptops that are WiFi enabled, there are a number of WiFi hot spots on Main Street in Sylva.


Who can get a library card and how?

Residents of Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties, residents of the surrounding counties and full-time students may apply for a Fontana Regional Library card. All that is required is a picture ID and something with a local mailing address. Part-time residents may obtain a temporary library card for a yearly price of $25. A child can get a card at birth.


Will there be a coffee shop?

There are numerous cafes and restaurants within walking distance. Vending machines will be available on-site as well.


Can food and drink be brought into the library?

Food and drink may be brought into the library and may be consumed anywhere except at the public access computers.


Will there be WiFi and accessible outlets to use to plug in my laptop?

The entire complex will be WiFi accessible. Many of the tables and lamps will have plug in outlets in their base. There will be outlets around the walls near the soft seating.


How can I find out more about the Jackson County Public Library Complex?

Visit the Fontana Regional Library’s website – fontanalib.org and the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library’s website – fojcml.org for the latest information on our library.

Jackson County commissioners are faced with a dilemma over the new Sylva library slated to open in May: either pony up more money for staff or the library will be forced to cut hours.

The new library is four times bigger than the current one, and as a result needs more staff. It needs another $170,000 to remain open the same 45 hours that it is now. That’s a 35 percent increase over the county’s current funding for the Sylva library of $500,000.

But Jackson County is facing budget shortfalls, not surpluses.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard,” Commissioner Doug Cody said. “We are taking the punches really well so far. We are trying to be creative.”

The new library will have three desks — a main check-out counter, a children’s desk and a reference desk — compared to just one at the current library. The new library also has a large computer lab.

The current Sylva library is so tiny that any of the workers behind the circulation desk can easily pop over to the computer area or the children’s section. They can be reshelving books one minute and fill in behind the counter the next.

But the new library is far more spread out. The computer lab has its own room for example. And the main adult book stacks are on a separate floor from the circulation desk.

As a result, the new library needs twice the staff: the equivalent of 15 positions compared to just seven now.

“If the funding is not increased the hours of operation will have to go down,” said Chuck Wooten, interim Jackson County manager. “I can imagine there would be a lot of pushback from the public to do that.”

More than half of county residents have library cards. The public anted up generously for the new library, a sign of its popular support, Wooten said. Friends of the Library raised $1.8 million in grants and local contributions to furnish the library.

The Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet even commissioned a fanfare to honor the library, specially written by a composer to be performed at the grand opening in June.

“I think it would be very disappointing to the people in this community to not have convenient access to their wonderful new library,” said Karen Wallace, the head of the Fontana Regional Library system. “If we don’t get an operating budget increase, they won’t have the access that the facility warrants.”

Wallace pointed to the $8 million price tag for the new library and restoration of the adjacent historic courthouse.

“It is a big investment to build that facility. To not to be able to use it to its potential would be really disappointing to people,” Wallace said.

Cody and Wooten met with Jackson librarians last week to go over the figures. Cody said commissioners will likely hold a work session on the issue to figure out what to do — one of many hard decisions as part of developing a budget for the coming fiscal year.

“I’m sure there will be some nervousness over the situation, but we just have to drop back and punt and see where we stand on this,” Cody said.

Ideally, the county could increase library hours from 45 a week to 60 a week, Wallace said. The North Carolina Public Library Director’s Association recommends that the main library in a county should be open a minimum of 60 hours.

But doing so would take another $125,000.

Wooten agrees that would be wonderful, but whether it is doable is another story.

“We are really opening our library at the worst possible time,” Wooten said.

Cody said he would like to see library hours increased as well, but probably not until the economy improves.

“I don’t see us initially getting to 60 hours. And conversely I don’t want to see them be open any less either,” Cody said. “If you only operate 30 hours, that is not giving people much opportunity to use the facility.”

Commissioner Mark Jones said the county will obviously have to give the library more money, but isn’t sure whether it will be the full $170,000. Jones wonders if there is any middle ground.

“Can we shave off a little time here and a little time there?” Jones asked. “These are tough times and we have to make tough choices.”

But Mary Otto Selzer, a volunteer with Friends of the Library, said the public wants longer hours, not shorter ones, pointing to the input gathered during focus groups held in conjunction with planning for the new library.

“One of the things we heard loud and clear from people was they would like to see the library expand its hours,” Selzer said. “We need to listen very carefully to our community to address the community’s needs. We hope the commissioners will find a way to at least maintain the 45 hours a week we are currently open.”

Selzer pointed to the current lack of evening hours. The library is never open past 6 p.m. It is only open six hours on Saturday and not at all on Sunday.

“For folks who work and working parents there is not a lot of opportunities to use the library,” Selzer said.

Library use across the country has increased during the recession. Those forced to cancel Internet service at home have turned to public computers at the library. More people are checking out movies instead of going to the video store, reading newspapers and magazines at the library instead of home subscriptions and borrowing books instead of buying them.

The library is also a place used by job seekers and those going back to school, he said.

Indeed, Wallace said the computer terminals are popular with those looking for work, since many jobs require people to fill out online applications. Wallace also said they’ve seen an increase in people who have turned to distance learning for new degrees, which require online exams.

Jones suggested enlisting volunteers. That plan has shown promise for the Green Energy Park, which attracted 45 prospective volunteers to an organizing meeting last week following news that the county would cut its funding. The Green Energy Park houses a collection of artist studios fueled by methane seeping out of decomposing trash at the old county landfill.

“Ask not what your county can do for you, but what you can do for your county,” Jones said.


Coming from behind

While another $170,000 annually is a substantial increase, Jackson librarians point out that the library is severely underfunded today. Part of the increase is merely catching up to where they should be already, according to Wallace.

When compared to surrounding counties, Jackson County libraries are indeed underfunded. Library funding amounts to $15 for each county resident. Per capita, that’s 36 percent below Haywood County and almost 50 percent below Macon County. Jackson’s library funding is 25 percent below the state average for all 100 counties.

Since the Sylva library is so small and antiquated, however, it isn’t used as much as libraries in other communities. Macon County sees nearly twice the library use of Jackson, for example.

Until now, that’s allowed the Sylva library to get by on fewer dollars.

Dottie Brunette, the head librarian in Jackson County, said she would have been hard-pressed to squeeze more staff into the existing library. There simply wasn’t enough elbow room for more people behind the small desk.

Jackson’s librarians are bracing for an explosion in library use when the new one opens, however.

Since a new library opened in Franklin in 2007, library use has shot up 50 percent. When Transylvania and Polk counties opened new libraries recently, they saw even bigger increases. The upsurge wasn’t a mere blip following the opening of a new library, but went up and stayed up permanently.

The stage is set in Sylva for an even more dramatic increase in library use than what was seen in other communities where new libraries opened. The current library is so bad, a smaller segment of the public uses it.

“The library has not been able to meet their needs. If you come to the library and can’t get what you need, after a while you just stop trying,” Wallace said.

Only 50 percent of Jackson residents hold library cards. In Macon County, that number was already 75 percent prior to the new library opening. Additional library use could only climb so high, and indeed most of the increased use in Macon came from existing cardholders simply visiting more often. But in Jackson County, the increase will not only come from more trips among existing users but from brand new users.

Wallace also pointed out that new library construction has been prominent in the public eye.

“I anticipate the numbers may be even higher in Jackson,” Wallace said. “I say that because the building of this library has had a very successful marketing campaign. And this library has been a long time coming.”

Jackson’s libraries are at the bottom of the barrel in yet another category. The volume of books and materials per capita are less than in Haywood, Macon or Swain. Again, there simply wasn’t room for stuff.

“There’s books lying across the tops of shelves because we have no room,” said Brunette.


Out of the blue?

In addition to the extra staffing, the county is on the hook for bigger heating and cooling bills, higher liability insurance and more janitors. County Manager Chuck Wooten estimates the cost of running the building will go up by $70,000 to $90,000, from $50,000 now.

Wooten, who came on board as interim county manager at the same time the new commissioners took office, said he does not know if these calculations were done previously.

“I could not find where there was an estimate of what it would be with the new building,” Wooten said.

An increase in library funding has blindsided three newly elected commissioners as they grapple with how to cut the county’s budget.

“Doesn’t seem amazing to you that this just came up? Why couldn’t this have been figured out when we thought about building the building?” asked Commission Chairman Jack Debnam. “If I got ready to build a building, I believe I would look at how much more it would take to staff and maintain it.”

Three conservative newcomers to the county board ousted their more liberal opponents in the November election, partly on the resounding Republican platform of reducing government spending.

But now this has landed in their laps, they said.

“This should have been anticipated two or three years ago when they started this project,” Cody said. “I am not trying to throw blame on anyone, but when you have a two-story building you effectively have to double your staff to keep people from carrying the place away.”

According to Tom Massie, a former commissioner who lost re-election last fall, the old board was well aware of costs the new library would require.

“We’re not stupid,” Massie said. “We knew it would cost more and we would have to rearrange funds. You do that in every budget year.”

Massie said deciding how to spend limited county money goes with the territory.

“We had our priorities and they have their priorities, and those are the tough decisions they will have to make,” Massie said.

Massie said the new board is learning that the job isn’t as easy as it looks.

“They had all the answers in the campaign,” Massie said.

Massie said the rubber will meet the road over the next few months as the new board develops a budget for the coming fiscal year.

“Come July 1, they are going to own the new budget,” Massie said.

Commissioner Mark Jones, who served on the old board with Massie and is still on there now, also said the increased costs aren’t exactly a surprise.

“We were aware that the new facility, with the size and the fact that it has multiple levels, would take additional staff,” Jones said.

Jones said when the last board embarked on the new library in 2007, they didn’t realize how much the recession would hurt county coffers.

When asked if the new library was a bad idea, neither Debnam nor Cody would go that far.

“I’m not going to go there,” Debnam said, when asked if the library shouldn’t have been built. But said “they should have considered it.”

“Regardless of how anyone feels about it, the library is there,” Cody said. “I have been through it and it is a beautiful facility. I am not going to tell you or anyone else I would have done anything any different. It is great.”

When Jackson County opens its new library, it will be with a little more than just the usual fanfare. Thanks to the efforts of the Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet, the occasion will also be marked by a performance of “Smoky Moutain Fanfare,” a new piece of music commissioned especially for the library’s christening.

The score was penned by composer and teacher David Sampson, a friend of the quartet and a sought-after composer from New Jersey.

Quintet member David Ginn said inspiration for the concept struck him as he was driving by the new facility in mid-construction; he realized that such a monumental and unique project needed something equally unique to commemorate its birth.


“A project this special, it’s got to have it’s own fanfare,” Ginn recounted, and shortly thereafter, he took the idea to his four fellow members.

Trumpeter Brad Ulrich was scheduled to have dinner with Sampson around the same time, and after a mention of the idea and a little more discussion, the seed of an idea began to spring to life. The rest, said Sampson, is history.

Of his composition, he said he hit the books — and the Internet — for some Appalachian research before diving into the piece. He wanted, he said, for it to have the same unique mountain flavor that makes the Smoky Mountains so appealing and steeped in history and tradition.

Sampson listened to bluegrass, gospel hymns and the shape-note singing that found its genesis in the heart of Western North Carolina. He tried to translate that down-home, celebratory flavor into notes that brass instruments could understand.

“There is certainly a hint of North Carolina,” said Sampson. “Anytime you expand a place that’s designed for learning, it’s a time to celebrate.”

Although he relied on his research to guide him when crafting the tune, Sampson said the process itself was an exercise in spontaneity — once he started banging out the melody, the rest of the piece seemed to tumble out after it.

While he put his heart and soul into the music as its creator, Sampson said he left room — as he always does — for the performers to impose their own take on what he’s come up with.

For this particular fanfare, Sampson said he has such confidence in the talents of the players that he’s sure they can’t help but make it better.

“I know these musicians are very high level,” said Sampson. “When you’re dealing with a group that has a lot of experience, if they bring that to my music it’s going to make my music even richer.”

And he’s not remiss in his judgment of the quintet. All five members are seasoned performance musicians with university-level musical training; many members still actively teach the craft at nearby Western Carolina University.

They’ve traveled extensively, performing not only around the region but around the globe, in locales as diverse as Russia, the United Kingdom and China.

And while Ginn said they haven’t put the finishing touches on their performance of the fanfare just yet, they’re very excited about the one-of-a-kind opportunity to play such a piece. In fact, said Ginn, the June opening of the library may be the song’s first and only chance to come off the page, so they want to get it just right.

“It’s almost like a limited edition,” said Ginn. “I don’t know that this is something that will be performed again in the future.”

The library, Ginn said, is such a special project, built by the hard efforts of countless volunteers, that the quintet is excited to play its part in the excitement of finally seeing it come to fruition.

“There’s a lot of people that have volunteered and dedicated their time to making the library happen, so this piece is kind of dedicated to them also,” said Ginn.

Sampson, whose full resume includes commissions from such impressive outfits as the National Symphony Orchestra and the International Trumpet Guild, along with a plethora of grants and endowments, said he’ll be there for his piece’s inaugural performance when the library opens to – and with – great fanfare in June.


A way to support Jackson’s library

Watercolor drawings of the historic Jackson County Courthouse, painted by local artist Eva Scruggs using walnut stain, are now on sale as note cards. The depiction is modeled after a 1914 photo of the structure. Boxes are available at Used Book Store in Sylva, with proceeds going toward the new library complex attached to the historic building.

Good things come to those who wait.

It’s an adage Jackson County library users will need to bear in mind this spring during a month-long closure of the Sylva branch during the massive move into its brand-new, first-class digs.

Librarians face the daunting task of packing up 35,000 books in circulation at the current library and arranging them in their new home. It can’t be done while continuing to keep the doors of the library open, according to Betty Screven, public relations chair with Friends of the Jackson County Library.


Volunteers with Friends of the Library are lining up to help with the operation. In fact, they’ve already started.

They have been combing the stacks of the Sylva library outfitting each book with a special radio-frequency identification tag. The new tags will take the place of the traditional barcodes used to check out books today.

Radio-frequency tags allow entire piles of books to be scanned at once, not only making it easier to check books in and out but also to keep track of collections. Librarians can inventory of a whole shelf in seconds without ever taking a book off. Library users will even be able to check out their own books.

The technology is considered cutting edge, but making the transition to the radio-frequency tags is too expensive and time consuming for most libraries to tackle.

The new library, which was constructed as an enormous wing on the back of the historic courthouse, will be more than three times bigger than the current one. The county is spending $8 million to build the library and restore the historic courthouse.

Jackson County Friends of the Library raised $1.8 million to furnish the library — from shelving to armchairs to desks — with $400,000 of that devoted to buying new books and materials. Newly purchased library items will come already equipped with the radio-frequency identification tags.

The new library will have a soft opening sometime in May with a grand opening planned for Saturday, June 11.

The completion date for Jackson County’s new library is just three months away, but the likelihood the project really will be finished then isn’t that great, construction Manager David Cates of Canton-based Brantley Construction acknowledged late last week.

Additional construction work, coupled with possible weather delays as this its-not-supposed-to-be-a-bad winter starts out with a battering of severe cold and snow, probably forebodes additional delay. A December target date was missed, too, because of poor weather conditions — 62 days of measurable rainfall in the first 90 building days — and complications with restoring the courthouse’s crowning point, the cupola.

The new library is being built as a 22,000-square-foot addition to the historic courthouse, which towers above Sylva on a small mountaintop. The courthouse itself will be devoted to providing community space to Jackson County residents, including an approximately 2,500-square-foot courtroom that will be available for almost any type of function or meeting. Office space for the county’s arts council and genealogical society will be provided in the old courthouse building.

The cupola is back atop the courthouse now, and a re-polished Lady Justice is shining brightly nearby. Inside, the library itself is taking shape. Friends of the Jackson County Main Library led a tour last week to showoff progress and detail the work taking place.

The future Jackson County Public Library is, in a word, gorgeous. Apart from a few libraries located at major universities (the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill comes to mind), it is doubtful any other community in the Southeast will boast of a facility as impressive as this one.

“I’m a little worried it is going to be so precious people will be uncomfortable,” said June Smith, president of the Jackson County Friends of the Main Library. “But I think and hope people will grow into it.”

Jackson County’s future library hasn’t been without controversy. Getting to this point took a decade of debate and a year of planning. There were arguments about the location, the cost and the need.

Budget disagreements concerning future library funding are likely to heat up again in the near future. Particularly since voters gave three of the project’s primary supporters — Democrats Brian McMahan, Tom Massie and William Shelton — the boot during last month’s election. Their replacements — officially-Independent-but-GOP-supported Chairman Jack Debnam and Republicans Charles Elders and Doug Cody — cited costs associated with the library project as prime examples of fiscal waste during their political campaigns.


A passion for libraries

“There are people in this community who are very passionate about libraries, and one of the most important roles the Friends’ plays is that of library advocate,” said Mary Otto Selzer, co-chair of the Friends of the Library committee, which raised more than $1.8 million since May 2008 in donations and grants to furnish and outfit the new facility.

To that end, Selzer and other Friends of the Library members join Jackson County Librarian Dottie Brunette in monitoring — and being visible at — the bi-monthly meetings of the county’s commissioners.

Setzer, who worked as an investment banker, said she hopes to help be able to educate the county’s new commissioners on the important role played by the library.

The three newcomers on the board join Democrats Mark Jones and Joe Cowan. They each have two years remaining on their four-year terms.

“They all are business people,” Setzer said optimistically, “and they like numbers and figures. That’s my background, too.”

In the three-county Fontana Regional Library System, made up of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, Jackson County historically almost always ranks last in terms of per-capita funding. This even though the previous Democratic-controlled board of commissioners was considered supportive of its libraries, with one each in Sylva and Cashiers.

Swain County — thanks to a low-taxing ability because of the sheer amount of federal holdings within the county’s boundaries, a number approaching about 85 percent — has recently overtaken Jackson as the lowest-ranking funded county in the Fontana System, Setzer said. Swain County is just now beginning to consider whether to build a new library of its own.

Setzer said she believes the massive community response to fundraising for Jackson County’s new library speaks volumes about residents’ commitment for libraries in general. She said the Friends group would need to continue money-raising ventures even once it opens.

That ongoing commitment to fundraising does not, however, abrogate the county’s responsibility to pay for general operating needs, Setzer said, such as overall building maintenance and staffing.


45,000 items to move

Betty Screven, a volunteer with Friends of the Library, said great pains have been taken to retain the original feel of the historic courthouse, which dates to 1914.

Architects and interior designers used historic records to guide restoration efforts. The building, gutted during the 1970s, had almost no original features. So the team instead focused on the Madison County Courthouse, which Jackson County’s courthouse was modeled on when the county seat was moved from Webster to Sylva.

The old courthouse and the addition are connected by a glass atrium. This will serve as the main entrance into the complex.

Librarian Brunette said there would be about 45,000 items that must be moved from the current Sylva library — located near the base of the hill the new library and old county courthouse sit astride. How exactly to move the books, CDs and other library material haven’t been decided yet. Other county employees, with permission of commissioners, helped when the contents of Macon County’s library was moved a few years ago.

New items are being purchased for Jackson County’s new library, as well. But “we don’t want all the shelves full, you want to be able to grow,” Brunette said.

There are gaps in the library collection the librarian would like to see filled. The Cherokee collection is not what it should be, though Ben Bridgers, a Sylva lawyer, plans to donate many historical and scholarly Cherokee books to the library, she said. Brunette also wants more materials for young adults.

Bryson City’s Marianna Black Library could be getting a facelift, and library leaders are looking to patrons for a grasp on exactly how to do that.

In eight public input sessions held last week, Swain County Librarian Jeff Delfield and consultant Ron Dubberly quizzed locals about what they’d like to see change about the library. Delfield said the comments represented a broad spectrum of opinions about how best to change the library, if at all.

“There was a varied range,” said Delfield. “I mean, there was everything from ‘don’t change a thing please, I love this library exactly the way it is,’ to folks saying ‘We want outdoor staged seating.’”

The meetings were the first in a series of information gathering sessions for the library’s visioning process. The next stop for consultant Dubberly will be meetings with stakeholders who have a vested interest in the library — the business community, the school board and other local organizations.

Swain County is following in the footsteps of Jackson and Macon, who both held visioning processes before building new libraries. While no conclusions have yet been drawn for Marianna Black, Delfield believes that parking might be a part of the equation, if not an entirely new building.

“In general, folks that use the library a lot know that we need parking,” said Delfield.

He said that library users are also keen to see more of what they already get from the library.

“They’re asking for more of the services that we already offer – more books, more movies, more computers, more meeting spaces,” said Delfield.

That’s a sentiment echoed by library-goers themselves.

“I think they could probably expand the book collection, and maybe get more periodicals,” said Bryson City resident Dan Sikorra, who stops by the library to read periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal.

When asked what she would like to see in a revamped library, Nantahala Gorge resident Rose Ponton also said the library could benefit from swelling its stacks.

“It’s hard to find the books I’m looking for here,” she said, “but I think the Marianna Black Library is doing a great job.” Ponton mainly comes to use the wireless Internet, but said she’d take advantage of lending services as well if more books stocked the shelves.

Swain County is in the early stages of the process, and Delfield said part of the reason such a range of opinions was expressed at the forums was consultant Dubberly’s “pie-in-the-sky question,” asking residents what they would do for the library with an unlimited budget.

After gathering opinions from the community, the library board and other key library stakeholders — along with factual demographic information — Dubberly and his team will generate a report recommending steps to grow the library in the future.

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