Life in Our Foothills May 2022 – Polk County Public Libraries – The Tryon Daily Bulletin
Open doors to magical experiences
When three kids race down the stairs wildly waving their own library cards, you know there’s something special here. These children were all businessmen and they were on a mission. They were in the Columbus branch of the Polk County Public Libraries having fun. A load of it. And while they were there, they were learning…more than you can imagine. The staff is quick to point out that this is not the kind of library where a member of staff tries to keep patrons, of any age, quiet. They expect children and adults to make some noise while they are in this happy place.
These three siblings know a good thing when they see it. And as frequent visitors, they could be tour guides. They know every inch of the newly redesigned “children’s library,” as well as the rest of the sprawling, two-story, 1,600-square-foot Columbus Library building.
Marcie Dowling (Library Manager) and Jen Pace Dickenson (Youth Services Librarian) were thrilled to share their stories. Surrounded by books, they were more than motivated to talk about the magic of Polk County Public Libraries.
Polk County Public Libraries should be designated a local treasure. The two branches (Columbus and Saluda) average nearly 60,000 pedestrian visits throughout the year. But that’s only part of the picture. It is also impressive to see the number of people accessing library services from home. More than 15,000 people attended 288 unique programs from home over the past year and total circulation exceeded 155,000 articles.
When the pandemic first surfaced, Polk County Public Libraries quickly adapted to the challenges. They increased the number of programs available online and also offered free Wi-Fi to families without a good internet connection or no internet at all. The library kept its wi-fi on 24/7 so people could access the service from the parking lot. Even with the easing of pandemic restrictions and the return of more and more users to both branches, online programming continues to grow.
If you haven’t been to a library lately, or specifically the Polk County Public Libraries…you’re in for a pleasant shock. The Columbus and Saluda bookcases offer more than just shelves of dusty books. A library card becomes a golden ticket for all the libraries offer. And library cards are free even if you’re from out of county or state. This card opens up the world of enlightenment and entertainment. The library has over 10,000 library cards in use, including one for every Polk County student who wants one.
Polk County has two library branches. The main Columbus branch was opened in 2006. The downtown Saluda branch opened in 2000. Although there is no longer a bookmobile, Rita Owens, who drove the bookmobile, still delivers books at home for home customers as well as premises. retirement homes and day care centres. Jen Pace Dickenson remembers going through Bookmobile books when he first appeared in Saluda before his own branch opened.
There are a few “councils” that help oversee library operations. There is a volunteer Board of Directors made up of community members appointed by the Polk County Commissioners. The Friends of Polk County Libraries is the fundraising wing of the library. Friends of Libraries has an ongoing book sale at the Columbus branch with items added weekly and new offerings monthly. Most books and DVDs are $1 each, and children’s books are only 25 cents.
It is obvious that in the age of electronics, libraries have learned to adapt. Marcie and Jen are convinced that reading is still going strong, but the way people read is constantly changing. Many people want the feel of a “real” book in their hands while others like to carry around a whole stack of books on an electronic device. In the end, the result is the same. Jen emphasizes that “we have something for everyone”. Marcie quickly agrees and adds, “We might surprise you with what we have to offer.”
To be surprised at what libraries offer is an understatement. Totally amazing would be more appropriate. We are fortunate to have such an amazing public resource with truly something for everyone.
Some of What Polk County Public Libraries Offer
- Traditional circulation of books, including periodicals, DVDs and CDs. There’s also a Stuff Library where you can check out board games, craft kits, STEM kits, and even cookie-making kits complete with the pans. The library also offers ecoEXPLORE backpacks developed by the North Carolina Arboretum. Each backpack contains a butterfly net, bugnoculars, an insect observation box, a bird call whistle, a magnifying glass and a surveillance camera.
- Desktop computers for library work and research.
- Wi-Fi (fiber optic) accessible everywhere inside as well as from the parking lot.
- On-site and digital programs for all age groups including children, teens and adults. The Saluda Library has an entire floor open to teenagers.
- Each branch offers a community meeting space that can be reserved.
- Regular “exchanges” where users can donate items at certain times and receive tickets to choose other items a few weeks later. Examples include clothing swaps, Halloween costume swaps, and sports equipment swaps.
- Coordinated activities with the Polk County Department of Parks and Recreation, such as “dancing parties” for the youngest and StoryWalks® where you can read, learn and exercise along 18 stations using the walking path of Stearns Park.
- Zoom Passes – Get free passes to visit the North Carolina Arboretum and the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville. The Hands-On Children’s Museum in Hendersonville will soon be added.
- Maker Kits – Plans are afoot to offer ‘kits’ for patrons to use in the library, such as a 3D printer, digital converter to take old films and convert them to today’s technology a sewing machine for those times when you might just need it once a year.
Some of the digital resources include:
- Hoopla – Read, listen, and watch over a million eBooks, audiobooks, movies, music, and TV shows.
- Libby – Provides a wide selection of eBooks and eAudiobooks for readers of all ages.
- Transparent Language Online – Explore, learn and polish a new language. More than 110 languages are offered, including English as a second language.
- Heritage Quest – is a treasure trove of American genealogical sources.
- NC Cardinal – is the library’s consortium with 61 counties in the state sharing resources through a shared catalog that offers 7.7 million physical items. Any Polk County Public Libraries cardholder can use their card at any Cardinal store.
- And if trying to figure out all those online offers and other technical issues seems a bit overwhelming, you can take advantage of the free one-on-one help sessions called “Book-a-Tech”. A personal technical expert can help customers with basic computer questions, show you how to download eBooks and eAudiobooks, and how to use your iPad, Kindle, tablet or smartphone.
The Columbus Library is located at 1289 West Mills Street, sharing the same campus as the Polk County location of Isothermal Community College. 828/ 894-8721.
The Saluda Library is located downtown at 44 West Main Street. 828/ 722-5218.
Hours of operation for each branch and information on accessing onsite and digital resources can be found at: www.polklibrary.org.
Pictures of Mark Levin