Helping Imagination Take Flight

Imagination … one of the many things available at the public library. Whether we’re reading a work of fiction, or accessing information and knowledge, libraries open up our minds, moving us toward creativity and, yes, even a better understanding of nature and humanity. Books open up the world.

But imagine this …

Your access is limited. The library is only available through membership or subscription. I’m sorry; you have to pay to read that book.

Imagine your community suddenly being closed off to the wonderful innovative services and programs provided by the library. Your children no longer having access to books or being able to freely participate in library reading programs.

Imagine yourself — the you as a child — entering a library for the first time. Do you remember the excitement of picking up a book? Think about that first book you were able to check out and take home. Now take those memories and throw them away, because the library’s door was closed to you.

Free or public libraries are essential and actually help create a community that is educated and literate. Libraries provide a source for cultural and intellectual energy, providing a place to meet, a program to attend, a book to read.

Jim Blanton, the Buncombe County Public Library Director, explains, “Libraries hold a special place in our communities as central hubs for lifelong learning and community engagement.” Through foundational resources, programs and services, libraries “offer the transformative capacity to help citizens achieve their full potential.”

In Asheville, the first library was established in 1879. This was one of the subscription libraries popping up in many places around the country.

While public libraries were not new to the US at that time, it took philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie to infuse funding into the system before it became more obvious that libraries should be open and available to everyone, and thus supported by tax dollars.

40 years after the founding of the Asheville (subscription) Library on Pack Square, it officially became the Pack Memorial Public Library when it opened its doors to Buncombe County residents as a free library.

It was 1919, and since that day, Jim says, “Libraries support all stages of learning, from early childhood to post-secondary and beyond. They serve as a primary means for people to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to pursue life goals and ambitions. Ultimately, libraries ensure that we have a vibrant, engaged community, where everyone has access to the tools they need to succeed and thrive.”

Erin Parcels, Library Director for the Enka-Candler branch, commented, “When I was little, I thought of the library as this magical place and librarians were the stewards of the space. They greeted me as soon as I walked in, gave book suggestions and introduced me to many different worlds and authors.”

And looking back to those early days, the concept of the public library was so popular that within a few decades the first Pack Memorial Library had outgrown itself. The city’s proposed Civic Center project in the 1970s provided the perfect opportunity to build a new library. The effort was led by architect Anthony Lord, chairman of the library board, and opened in 1978 at its current location in downtown Asheville.

Erin continues, “I noticed the role of libraries and librarians was changing. No longer was it a quiet space, but a space for people to come together to discuss ideas, teach classes and workshops, even to workout. The library has become a community space, welcoming everyone. Libraries gave me access to books, which bridged the gap between worlds when I was little, introducing me to all different people, creatures and cultures. Now, libraries get to bridge gaps in reality. Involving our community more, we get to be loud, have fun, and embrace learning beyond books.”

Friends of Pack Library provides key financial support to help fund necessary items, events or programs that fall outside of the library’s annual budget. This support provides another avenue in which to provide extended services and programs to our community.

The Buncombe County Public Library system has grown substantially since that first day, with the Pack Memorial Library having more than 150,000 items available for review and checkout and the Buncombe County Special Collections room — previously the North Carolina Room — serving as a hub of information about our area. The library’s services and programs have continued to expand, while remaining free and open to the public.

Anchored as it is on Haywood Street, the Pack Memorial Library is a community center that continues to thrive while changing with the times.

Public libraries are critically important to you and society as a whole. As such, it’s crucial that they remain open, free and available to everyone. Libraries provide a solid foundation, one on which our society is built and therefore, it’s important for us all to continue to support them.

Over the past couple of decades, many people have said that books will eventually go away and we will become a digital society, but libraries have surprised many of those naysayers. Holding a wonderfully, graphic children’s book with drawings of dragons, bunnies, or hedgehogs leaves an indelible mark. Holding a book, feeling its pages, the weight of it, is not nearly the same thing as viewing it on a digital screen. There’s something timeless and relevant in books, whether they be new releases, or the antiquarian books of a by-gone era.

If you haven’t been to your public library recently, go. Pack Memorial Library is now open at its normal hours. It continues as a community gathering place, focusing on cultural activities, literacy and intellectual pursuits that cannot be found anywhere else.

According to Erin, “Our library exists as a free space for everyone in the community. I look forward to seeing how libraries and librarians continue to transform, progress, and connect with everyone while maintaining the air of magic it’s had for years. Libraries are always there, a place where there’s something for everyone, a place to learn, have fun, and relax, a place to grow, and meet new people, a place to not feel lonely; there’s nothing quite like them.”

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