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Public survey could make or break Haywood library expansion

Public survey could make or break Haywood library expansion

Hopes for a major renovation and expansion of the Waynesville library were temporarily shelved by county commissioners last year and remain in limbo, now hinging on a to-be-determined strategic plan for the entire library system.

Whether the Waynesville library expansion re-emerges as part of the final plan — or whether it’s scaled back to make way for a suite of smaller improvements at all the library branches — depends on public input during the ongoing visioning process.

A survey will be mailed to 4,500 random households in Haywood County the first week of February, asking the public to weigh in on the future of their libraries. 

“The more surveys that get returned, the bigger the message will be to the commissioners that the public supports renovation, rejuvenation and renewal of their library system,” said David McCracken, chair of the Haywood Library Foundation. “It will cost them nothing but a little bit of time to fill it out.”

The survey will hopefully gauge what library users — and non-library users — want to see.

“What do the citizens want to see in their library? How they are using it? What would make it more enticing? What kinds of improvements would they like to see if any?” said Dr. Todd Collins, the director of the WCU Public Policy Institute, which was commissioned to conduct the survey.

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A coalition of library supporters previously spent a year — plus $25,000 on a consultant and architect — developing a plan to expand and upgrade the 35-year-old flagship library in Waynesville.

The library coalition hoped to garner $4 million in support from the county and combine it with the proceeds of a $2 million capital campaign.

However, when the library coalition presented the idea to county commissioners last April, they got a lukewarm response.

County leaders ultimately sent the coalition back to the drawing board to formulate a comprehensive strategic plan for library services throughout the entire county.

Although the initial campaign failed to launch, McCracken said the task force is optimistic about where the strategic planning process will lead. 

“I think it was reasonable feedback from the commissioners to say ‘What about the rest of the system?’” McCracken said. “I wish we didn’t have this year-long slow down, but I think it is good for the county to take that step.”

The mail-in survey is just one piece of the public input guiding the strategic plan. The library task force also held a series of public visioning meetings in the fall from Beaverdam and Bethel to Maggie Valley and Fines Creek.

“It was a very rich data collection process. It was great to go out to all the communities of the county,” said Dona Stuart, a county official serving as a liaison to the new task force.

During the initial planning process over a year ago, an extensive survey of library users was conducted, and those will be incorporated into the new strategic plan, as well, Stuart said.

But the random mail-in survey will hopefully capture a larger cross-section of the public, including those who aren’t currently library users.

The mail-in survey will cost roughly $9,000, with the county, Friends of the Library and the Haywood Library Foundation dividing the cost evenly three ways.

Collins brought a team of graduate students who will be analyzing and compiling the survey results to a library task force meeting this week, which they capped off by a tour of the library.

“I know getting citizens involved is tough,” said Collins. “I think doing this type of survey will help with that.”

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