The Modern, Multi-faceted Library

03 Oct 2022

The library systems that serve the Sandhills are expansive, nimble learning and community centers

By Kevin Lewis  »  Photos by John Patota

Joanna King of Carthage speaks for many Moore County families with small children when she says that Moore Regional Library “was very much my social lifeline [and] kept me grounded.” King, her husband and child moved to Carthage from upstate New York in 2014, and the couple have two children now. They knew no one but quickly met other families when they brought their children to the pre-school library story hour. When the pandemic regulations hit, they frequently showed up at the then-access denied library in Carthage for phone-in checkout and outside pickup.

Fortunately, the regulations were lifted for the library’s summer reading program which is a highlight of the family’s life.

Pre-school story hours commenced In April at Moore Regional Library after being on hiatus for a year because of state regulations. At Southern Pines Public Library, the infant and pre-school story hours began earlier in the year because it is a municipal rather than a state library and not subject to the same COVID shutdowns. The gatherings are so popular that a cutoff enrollment of 25 per session has been set. Amanda Brown, who has been director for 10 years, is delighted with the euphoria at the library.

The other municipal library, Given Memorial Library in Pinehurst, also has infant and pre-school story hours which are very popular. A mixture of parents, nannies and grandparents accompany the children, which pleases Audrey Moriarty, Given’s director for 20 years. She hopes to expand activities to teenagers soon. The library, which also houses the Pinehurst golfing history in its Tufts Archives, is known for its signature club room furniture and atmosphere. Moriarty wants families to feel comfortable with the formal setting and think of it as “the community living room.”

All of which means the Silence is Golden library rule doesn’t apply anymore. Senior citizens are on “time share” with their grandchildren while others come to the library for research, job resources, a place to work in addition to the innovative programming at libraries across
the Sandhills.

Moore County, which is a rural county, is developing a suburban look with many subdivisions. An artificially infused demographic of retiree emigrants, active military stationed at Fort Bragg, and corporate executives who work remotely from their homes has created bedroom communities in Pinehurst, Aberdeen and Southern Pines, Vass and Pinebluff, Carthage and Robbins. More than a few commuters to Research Triangle Park travel U.S. Route 1 daily or Highway 690 to Fort Bragg.

Families have changed the face of the Sandhills. Military families, both retired and active, numbering in the thousands have created ongoing educational and building crises for county commissioners to navigate because of the decision of the Department of Defense to allow active military to reside outside of Cumberland County, and area libraries are nimbly helping fill in the gaps.

But the quiet revolution which has transformed the regional and municipal public libraries of Moore County into bustling creative reading centers has gone unpublicized amid the much-publicized drama of the Board of Education of late. Rather than diminishing, more people are relying on the libraries. Though eBooks and audio books are in demand, local librarians agree that the checking out of physical hard print books still outnumbers the digital equivalents. The libraries buy the same book not just in hard copy but in various formats: cd/audio book, eBook and e-Audio copy.

The Sandhills has arguably more library systems serving a traditionally rural area than many urban areas of the state, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington, Greensboro and Asheville. The welcoming mat of Sandhills Community College to the community to use its Boyd Library increases the county services and outreach tremendously. The regional library systems belong to the consortium NC Cardinal, which was formed in 2010 to “make the combined resources of North Carolina’s public libraries available to all people of the state through a shared catalog and a statewide library card.” A patron can retrieve a book, CD or DVD from another library at no cost through an inter-library loan from over 50 counties. Over 6.5 million items held by NC Cardinal are available to every library card patron.

Sandhill Regional Library System, based locally in Carthage, which serves five counties (Anson, Hoke, Moore, Montgomery and Richmond), Southern Pines Public Library, and Given Memorial Library, has met the family programming challenge with cantilevered story hours in various age groups: infant, pre-school and pre-teenagers. During the pandemic when the libraries were closed, various means such as outside checkout and return of library materials were instituted. Southern Pines Public Library was the first to reschedule story hours because it is a municipal library.

The state regional library system operated under strict COVID regulations from Governor Roy Cooper, and were closed to public access, but as Alice Thomas, Director of Moore County Library points out, “the librarians were on premises and provided books and services by telephone and outside check out and check in. The rural areas were never neglected, though the Bookmobile was suspended. “Since Southern Pines and Pinehurst have their own municipal libraries in place to serve their citizens,” Thomas states, “the branches of the Moore County Library System (Aberdeen, Carthage, Pinebluff, Robbins and Vass), along with the Bookmobile are doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ when it comes to serving the rural areas of Moore County. I think that is fair to say.

“Our branches, particularly the Bookmobile, provide resources for local schools that don’t have their own media centers, and we provide early literacy resources for many daycare centers. We’re also helping to bridge the digital divide by providing patrons with hotspots that they can check out with computers that they can use to apply for jobs or take online exams.

“I think, too, that the social connection many of our patrons get from a visit to the library or Bookmobile is very important to their well-being. It’s that shared experience of being among other readers and feeling welcome. I saw a quote recently that I liked: Public libraries aren’t about getting all the books back. They’re about getting the readers back.

Given Memorial Library and Tufts Archive is transitioning from a privately endowed library from the Tufts and Given families into a Village of Pinehurst-owned library. The village finally agreed to buy the library and expand it in its current space on the Village Green area. Moriarty says that design plans are still in discussion with new construction to begin in 2024 for completion by 2026.

Boyd Library is the academic library of Sandhills Community College which addresses different library information needs based on course completion criteria. President John Dempsey has been the esteemed mentor to generations of students for 33 years and is retiring in December. “The library, he states, “is the heart of the college and the brains of the community.”

Tammy Stewart, Dean of Learning Resources, and Carl Danis, Director of Library Resources, welcome the public. Stewart says, “We are an academic library with vigorous public outreach.” All residents of Moore and Hoke counties 18 and older or enrolled in college-level classes are eligible to register for a free library card.

The core of Boyd’s research library is its databases. CINAHL Complete and StatRef! are two nursing and allied health databases used by health care students pursuing degrees or by those who will be teaching in medical academic disciplines. EBSCO, Proquest and Gale in Context are databases for interdisciplinary research purposes in published articles and professional journals.

Families visiting the library can check out items from the Barbara H. Cole Children’s Literature Collection, which offers more than 4,000 items including DVDs, children’s picture books, juvenile and young adult fiction as well as non-fiction books. Danis explains his goal: “Our mission is to help all users find the information they need.”

“Libraries are no longer just hushed repositories for books,” states Brown of the growth she has experienced as the Southern Pines library has expanded. “Libraries are the heart of their communities, welcoming everyone and continually adapting to the needs of their residents. Libraries are one of the only free institutions that exist for everyone, and they act as hubs designed around their community’s needs.”

And its not just books that are checked out. Southern Pines Public Library has an extensive seed checkout program in partnership with the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service. Any library visitor can go through the filing drawers and checkout seeds. The library requires contact information, and the borrower replenishes the seeds when the plant blooms with harvested seeds.

“Libraries help patrons in all walks of life — seniors who want to learn about and access technology, job seekers needing to create resumes, parents looking for early literacy experiences, and many other groups who connect to programs, resources and services,” says Brown. “Reading, learning and books (whether physical, digital or audio) are still essential to their missions, but engagement with residents and adding value to their lives is what they really do.”

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