FRL – looking back, looking forward

As I get ready to retire next month, I find myself looking back at nearly 25 years of working for the Fontana Regional Library System.  There have been a lot of changes.  Walking into the Macon County Public Library on Wayah Street, for my first day on the job, the first thing I found myself doing was helping Karen Wallace, my new boss, change out the power supply in the library’s PC.  Back then we had a whopping 6 computers in the entire region and no IT staff, so it fell to the County Librarian and a brand new library assistant to repair a computer.  In those days, we didn’t have the Internet or an online catalog.  We checked books in and out manually using paper cards and a date stamper.  Each library had a card catalog – a huge piece of furniture that had multiple 3×5 cards for title, author, and subjects for every book in the library, all held in place on long rod, in the drawers.
2011 Library of Congress USA 5466788868 card catalog
Every time a new book went on the shelf, a library assistant had to add the cards to the catalog by pulling out the rod, filing the card, reinserting the rod (while praying not to drop the drawer!), and repeating for every card – usually there were 6 or more per book.

We’ve come a long way since then:

  • In 1994 we opened the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library.
  • We also automated the catalog and started checking things out with a computer in 1994.  (It took us another year before we trusted it enough to stop using the card catalog.)
  • In 1995 we made Internet computers available to the public using dial-up connections. (One per library, to start.)
  • In 1998 we created homework centers in all of the libraries to give kids access to computers and databases to help them succeed in school.
  • In 1999 we installed a wide area network that replaced our dial-up Internet with high-speed access, and introduced our first library website.
  • 1999 was also the year we started the Reading Rover service to daycares throughout Jackson, Swain, and Macon counties, and the Qualla Boundary.
  • In 2000 we installed our first public computer lab.
  • In 2003 we upgraded the wide area network to increase the speed on of Internet.
  • In 2004 we celebrated our 60th anniversary as a regional library, and started our newsletter, The Fontana Flyer.
  • In 2006 the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library was expanded and renovated.
  • In 2007 we opened the new, improved Macon County Public Library on Siler Farm Road.
  • 2007 also began the installation of the library’s fiber network increasing speed and access to the Internet which would eventually include all libraries in the region, and RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology.
  • In 2009 we began offering free wi-fi.
  • 2011 was a busy year – the new Jackson County Public Library Complex was opened at the top of Main Street; Hudson Library in Highlands was expanded and renovated; and we began offering e-books and e-audiobooks through e-iNC
  • In 2012 we joined the NC-Cardinal consortium, sharing library resources across the state.
  • By 2014 we had fiber networks and RFID technology in every library building in the region.
  • In 2017 we added a portable planetarium and telescopes to our programs as well as streaming video.
  • This year, 2018, we are adding “maker tools” in all of our libraries.  Soon you will be able to come to the library for sewing, embroidering, coding, robotics, 3D printing, and an array of other interesting crafts and tech tools for you to explore.

And, of course, we have continued to add computers, laptops, netbooks, and tablets for all ages to use. We had 6 when I came.  We have over 200 as I leave.

None of this has been inexpensive.  It has taken lots of grants plus gifts and donations from our supporters including Friends of the Libraries groups, Boards, and the public.  The counties provide buildings and basic support, but not much more.  We have always relied on you, Dear Readers, to pitch in and help.

By the way, all these goodies don’t take care of themselves.  We have more than doubled our staff since I started because the thing that sets your library apart from Google is that we have actual human beings who answer your questions and provide help and support for you.  Sometimes, we are even happy to just chat when you feel like talking to someone.

I am retiring next month, but I’m not leaving the library.  I’ll still be paying my taxes and voting for elected officials who support this community treasure.  I’ll be donating my time and money by visiting the library and the website, attending all the diverse and interesting programs, checking out all the cool stuff, and enjoying all the new and amazing things that the future will bring.  So, this is not “good-bye”, it’s “see you later at our library”.

Photo credit:By tedeytan from Washington, DC (Library of Congress Reading Room Open House 6) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons