Fontana Regional Library is celebrating 75 years of providing service to Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties in Western North Carolina. Read the recent blog describing how the regional library was started, including fascinating histories of the region’s member libraries.
However, here is a remarkable history of another sort: for nearly two-thirds of the existence of Fontana Regional Library, Diann Ball has worked for the region. This February, she will have been an employee at Fontana Regional Library headquarters for 47 years!
As a child, Diann routinely visited the Marianna Black Library with her family, when the library had a space in the community building on the Bryson City square, where the region headquarters also had a space: “The way I remember it, we came on Saturdays. My dad worked out of town. We walked to town just about a mile and then we did all our business such as shopping at the drugstore, Belk, Bumgarners, then came to the library which was located on the second story of what we called a community building. You went up a row of stairs and in the children’s area which was a small area in the middle with two doors, like a little cubicle.” Both the Marianna Black Library and the Fontana Regional headquarters moved to their current building in 1970. Shortly thereafter, Diann began volunteering at the headquarters, then started working there in 1973.
At that time, a book was checked out by signing a card in the pocket at the back — there were no computers! You could see who had previously read the book, and be reminded whether you had already read it yourself. Now, you can log in to your account on a computer, and if you have enabled history, see which books you have read. No one else, including library staff, can see your history.
Card catalogs were still the way to find a book then, unlike now, when one can find a book online just by tapping on a phone. One of Diann’s tasks was to type up the cards that filled the card catalog when books were added to the collection.
Diann started by using a Remington typewriter, but was pleased when headquarters acquired a Selectric typewriter, which allowed making duplicate copies of a card. Diann helped hire a taxi to pick up packages of books from the post office (before deliveries were brought to the library), process the books, and distribute them to the libraries in the region. In fact, she helped with anything that needed to be done: ride in the bookmobile to bring books to people all over the area, participate in children’s programs at Marianna Black Library, drive one of the Fontana directors on visits to the libraries, convert library records to a database once computers arrived, and much more.
In the early years, there was only a director at headquarters plus one full-time and one part-time assistant; Diann says that “Later on FRL got an assistant director who helped out at MBL and later became a manager, but they only had one full time and one part-time employee – and I supported with some duties there. I helped out with children’s programs and showing the movie when school groups came down, and different activities, well into the late ‘80s. There are pictures of me being a snowman. It was this big head made out of chicken wire and plaster of paris. It was heavy. I was a jack-o-lantern to begin with and then they turned it into a snowman.”
Diann misses seeing all the books that she processed for the libraries: “I did miss that piece when my job evolved and I didn’t do the processing the same, I didn’t know what might be the latest, not handling the book and seeing it come across my desk.” Nowadays, each library just orders its books online, and they arrive at the library, often already processed. In recent years, Diann has been the Human Resources point person for the over seventy staff members working at headquarters and the six libraries in the region. The region has many more employees and many more resources than it did when she started! It also shares resources with libraries all over the state. Diann boxes books to ship to those libraries when books from Fontana have been requested, or when Fontana patrons have requested books outside the region which need to be returned. She also spends a day each week driving to libraries in Swain, Macon, and Jackson counties, couriering materials requested by patrons within the region.
Diann has seen many changes at the Fontana Regional Library, and is more qualified than any other staff member to answer questions about how library service in the region has evolved over the last five decades!