By Bryan Stevens
I got a library card on May 25 at the Unicoi County Public Library. A young woman named Hannah Garst at the check-out desk provided wonderful assistance as she processed my application and summarized the library’s lending policies.
Getting the card had been on my “to-do” list for a long time. I’ve always appreciated libraries and the work they do and role they provide in the community.
Under library director Selena Harmon, UCPL is doing some amazing things. It’s a sad reality that we sometimes take things as important as a community library for granted and fail to realize that such institutions require our support to thrive and provide so many tangible benefits.
Harmon and staff have been crusading to raise awareness about the library’s roles and needs. In an article in The Erwin Record on May 25, Harmon acknowledged a hard truth. Libraries across the country struggle to do all that they do, often on limited budgets.
In the same article, Harmon noted that the library is about more than books. As an educator as well as an editor — someone who has always worked with the written word — I found myself resisting that statement at first.
But Harmon followed with a precise encapsulation of what a modern library is for its community.
Libraries, she noted, are a critical part of the social infrastructure. She pointed out that the modern library has evolved to keep pace with community interests and needs.
It’s still about the books, but it is so much more.
Harmon is working to make the UCPL an access point for technology and information — a community hub that will provide a safe place where people can do so many amazing things, including creating, reading, studying, learning, gathering and connecting.
It’s those community connections that I believe will let her accomplish her lofty goals. In an age when we often bemoan the lack of such connections, Harmon and staff have tapped into a crucial need.
I attended a few events last summer at the library when it looked like the pandemic was giving us a break. The events were informative, entertaining and featured exceptional presenters.
In an age when some suspect the value of books and information, it’s refreshing to know that UCPL and its staff are their champions.
There are many calls on public funds. Maintaining roads, repairing sidewalks and keeping public facilities open are a few. Keeping the community’s public library thriving ranks right up there, too.
The library’s getting ready to offer Drive-in Movie Nights this summer. The Summer Reading Program is ready to launch and will conclude later in the season with a Library Luau.
On a list of upcoming events the library will also offer “Yellow Submarine Day,” a celebration of the music group The Beatles. This event is a partnership with Erwin’s Music Mountain. I’ve noticed how Harmon and staff have a great talent for forging partnerships with many of the community’s small and large businesses alike.
The UCPL is classified as a Level III library in Tennessee. Harmon noted that there are 55 Level III libraries in the state. The UCPL ranks 49th of those 55 in local funding. We can, should and must do better. Investing in the UCPL is money well spent.
In the meantime, my new UCPL library card will hold an honored spot in my wallet. I expect to use it often.