New Macon library to become Fontana system’s showcase

It’s no small task moving a library.


Macon County library employees this week have been stacking 62,000 books, videos, CDs and other items on to pallets. The packages are shrink-wrapped and shipped from the current library before being unpacked at the almost twice-as-big replacement on Siler Road.

When the new library opens April 2, Macon County residents such as Kathy Tinsley will have access to an almost 30,000-square-foot facility with perks such as self-checkout, more computers and additional study rooms.

“I was a little apprehensive at first because it’s not going to be on the beaten path,” the Cartoogechaye community resident said.

Now, however, Tinsley said she believes residents will embrace the new library’s location near U.S. 441 just outside of town.

Though part of the same three-county Fontana Regional Library system, Macon County’s benign library move stands in contrast to similar attempts in Jackson County.

There, a push to expand and move the Sylva library met with failure because of some residents’ strong sentiments that it should remain in the immediate downtown.


Reaching new standards

The new Macon library will be the first in the Fontana Regional Library system to reach the state’s recommended guideline of staying open at least 60 hours a week.

The move has been “as much about expanding hours as expanding space,” said Karen Wallace, who is Macon’s library director and also head of the Fontana Regional System.

Wallace said Fontana Regional Library hopes to eventually reach the 60-hour threshold at the other two main county libraries in Sylva and Bryson City.

Previously, Macon’s library was open 50 hours a week. Keeping the doors open earlier and later each day has required a substantial commitment by Macon commissioners, as it would in Jackson and Swain counties. In addition to the donation of five acres and $4.1 million, Macon added 10 new library positions, both full- and part-time, plus a substitute. That’s up from 15 full- and part-time staffers.


‘Dissension’ part of process

It took two years to raise the money needed to help furnish the new Macon library. Retired school employee Roberta Swank headed the fundraising, which resulted in just more than $1 million in grants and donations, including money given by an estate. The county’s Friends of the Library group hired a commercial interior designer to help with the inside.

Macon’s ability to find a new site and raise the funds was successful, said Swank, because community meetings at the outset let everyone feel they’d had their say.

“A lot of people liked it where it was already located,” she said. “Anytime you add, change or expand, you are going to have some dissension. You must have input and you must expect some people to disagree.”

The old building was near Franklin High School. Students often walked there after school, which won’t be possible at the new site.


A consensus in Jackson

Wallace thinks agreement about a new library will occur in Jackson County.

“I think it’s clear that we’ve not reached consensus yet, but I think we are close,” she said.

A planning grant will be used to hire a consultant to direct a series of community meetings such as those in Macon, she said, with open discussion about service priorities. Debate has raged for years over where a new library should be built, how big it should be and whether one was even needed.

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