Friday, February 22, 2013

A Portrait of a Small Town Library

Its a cold, deary day here in east Tennessee--a day that begs to be spent in a nest of pillows and blankets with a copy of Jane Eyre and a mug of tea. My mom and grandparents and fantastic four-year-old sister are driving out to visit me tomorrow (and see the college's production of Cosi Fan Tutte!) and while I'm not homesick per se, I've had home on my mind a good bit the past few days. As much as my place of residence matters, home is not really home till I've found a library.

 Since my focus in librarianship is in the public arena, I've been slowly gathering ideas and shaping my view of what makes a good public library.When I think of my favorite small town library, my mind will always go to the South Cheatham Public Library (click to visit their website!) This is where I got my first experience working in a library, and while its definitely not the most conventional library out there, its got a unique character and the warmest heart you will ever find.

Located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, the South Cheatham Library (along with the Red Tree Coffee shop and the local high school)  is one of the pillars of  the South Cheatham County community. Housed in a log cabin building that was built entirely by volunteers, and wedged between a Church of Christ and Methodist Church, it sits on main street, right in the heart of Kingston Springs. Walk in the back door from the parking lot and you are immediately greeted by a large artificial tree (decorated according to the season, and always adorned with white Christmas lights). The Learning Tree, as its called, has a story which Janet Walker, the library director would be glad to tell you if you ask.

The layout of the library is simple and open and can be divided in to three main sections. As you walk in the back door, the right-most third (the one with the tree) contains the Children's and Youth sections. A low table with brightly colored stools features new and seasonal picture books. There are often young families here stocking up on reading material for the week.
The middle section consists of the circulation desk and public use computers. In a rural county, where some locations have yet to be reached by quality internet service providers and income isn't that high, the public library computers become even more valuable. Working at the library, I got used to the regulars who came to use our computers on schedule. One man's public library computer can quickly become another man's office. The circulation desk is a watering-hole of sorts, where patrons and the library workers connect and catch up on town news or other topics of interest.
The third section of the library is the adult materials, from print to audio to visual. Split in half between fiction and non-fiction, both get sampled from equally. A moderate sized large-print section services the body of elderly patrons the library has (as well as those who, like my not-elderly mom, just like large print).

There are some quirky features to the South Cheatham Library that you may or may not find elsewhere. For example, over in the adult section, near the fireplace (which is not in use, as evidenced by the rattle of squirrels and birds in the flue come springtime) is a Keurig coffee maker, provided by the local community bank. Here, patrons can brew of cup of coffee and sip it while they browse or relax and read in the rocking chairs. Needless to say, there's not really a drinks policy in place, but they haven't had any problems with it yet!
 Library events include the annual Christmas tree lighting and cookie contest, Summer Reading Program with great children's edu-tainment, and the twice-annual book sales in the Spring and Fall.
The library also hosts weekly programs like Storytime with Mrs. Velvet, for preschool and kindergarten aged children, and Coffee and Chat, (sometimes called Sip and Stitch by Mrs. Pam) a group of ladies that meets weekly to drink coffee, eat sweets and work on their current handiwork projects.

Its small and sometimes noisy; its not the best place to go study, but we in the community are fond of it. So much so, that when disaster strikes and a tornado rips the roof off, we're all there the next morning to move waterlogged books.  There's something special about a small town community like that, something that draws me to small libraries. I want to be in on an operation like that someday.

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