By MICAH HENRY
Nearly without interruption, Alexander Countians have enjoyed having a library to go to for nearly fifty years now, but that wasn’t always the case, as a special display at Alexander County Library currently shows. The staff of the facility is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of operation this week with special activities.
The local library entity began its current period of service in Fall 1967. But that wasn’t the first public library here.
Through community efforts, a Library had begun in the mid-1930s but closed during World War II, following the failure of a tax referendum for funding.
The first Alex library
That first library had existed from Feb. 5, 1936, following a meeting just one month earlier of the Taylorsville Woman’s Club, at which a field representative for the N.C. Library Commission was guest speaker. Members of the club had invited each fraternal and civic organization in Alexander to send a representative to that pivotal meeting. This really sparked local efforts and many were involved in bringing a library to fruition. Government aid assisted the 1936 effort through a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, which called for a library supervisor and workers for the library, according to a contemporary piece written by Mrs. R.S. Ferguson, Chair of the Library Committee then. The librarian was paid via WPA funding.
A library committee was formed for fundraising. Many local individuals and organizations gave funds for the effort.
Mrs. Sue J. Ramsey Ferguson wrote that one woman rode three miles in a buggy in zero-degree weather to pay a membership fee in the association, and to ask for a book exchange in her community.
The County’s six Home Demonstration clubs sponsored book exchanges. A building was donated, heat was furnished, most of the furniture was given, too, Ferguson noted. The library was housed in the Campbell Hotel building. Miss Elsie Allen was the librarian. Some books were shipped here from the State Library Commission in Raleigh, until more could be obtained.
Just seven weeks after it opened, the Library had four exchanges: Ellendale, Piney Grove, White Plains, and Stony Point. There were 813 books.
After five months as a temporary committee, a permanent association was formed, the Alexander County Library Association, with its constitution drawn up according to the Library Laws of North Carolina. The organization had one annual meeting and elected a Board of Trustees to oversee the library. Services of the library “were not in any way limited to members of the association,” wrote Mrs. Sue Ferguson.
After eight months, there were 17 book exchange stations in the county. Most were kept by women in their homes, without pay for the service. A book truck was loaned to the county by the NC Library Commission for September 1937 and loaned out over 2,000 books in 18 days.
Later, on Dec. 3, 1941, the Alexander County Library was incorporated as a non-profit, non-stock corporation, with Mrs. R.S. Ferguson as President, Sloane W. Payne as Vice President, and Mrs. E.E. Lackey as Treasurer. Board members included Ferguson, Payne, Lackey, as well as Mrs. W.S. Norton, Mrs. P.E. Johnson, Mrs. T. Clyde Watts, Mrs. U.L. Hafer, and Conway Sharpe (then co-publisher of The Taylorsville Times). The corporation listed $14,355.71 in assets, with $5,000 of that being the Bogle property and $7,000 in government bonds. There were no liabilities listed.
However, the funding apparently ran low in wartime. A special election was held on April 27, 1943, to decide whether or not to levy a special tax of 3¢ per $100 valuation on real and personal property in Alexander, for the establishment, maintenance, and support of public libraries in the county.
An April 22, 1943 article noted that it was surprising to learn that some local folks had been working against the library. This despite the library having a collection of over 4,000 books which were circulated, on average, about twice a month. Alexander County Library was informed by the State Library Commission that this was an outstanding record. The article said the average tax levy would be about 51 cents per taxpayer, or about one cent per week.
Despite the pleas from the article, the tax referendum failed (1,050 voted against the tax and 578 voted for it) and the Alexander County Library closed in 1943. A resolution of the Library Board on May 7, 1943, noted the Library had no income from any source, and that the War Price and Rationing Board had been using part of the Library building (Bogle property) for at a rent of only $10 per month, paid by the County Commission, for the year prior. The resolution noted $10 was not sufficient to pay taxes, insurance, and upkeep on the facility. It was resolved to donate the books (which numbered about 5,000 by this time) to the NC Library Commission. The Alexander Library Board of Trustees resolved to sell the Bogle property, library equipment, fixtures, and furniture for the best price obtainable, invest the funds received into War Bonds, to be held in trust by the Board of Trustees until such time as a new library system could be set up for Alexander County.
Some of the books were given to the county schools, and others were stored in the NC State Library. The stored books were later placed in a special collection in the Taylorsville High School Library, according to a later article in the Winston-Salem Journal.
1967: New hope for a library
Fast forward nearly 24 years, to January 5, 1967. That day, The Taylorsville Times had an article announcing “Library Will Apparently Become A Reality In Co.”
That week, the Alexander County Commissioners and the Town of Taylorsville Board of Commissioners agreed to work jointly to bring about a library for the county. One-third of the funding was to come from the Town, with two-thirds from the County government. Each government entity appointed three members to the six-member Library Board of Trustees.
The County deferred to name their three members at that time, but the Town named Dr. Alex Moffett, Mrs. Ray Jennings, and William Scott to the Trustees.
An operating budget of $24.962 was set up,with about $15,000 local funds and the rest being State and Federal funding.
Howard Gryder, field coordinator for the Appalachia Economic Development council, presented the local governing bodies plans for a $200,000 library facility, with a bookmobile service. It was said that the $200,000 could be raised with the help of the State and Federal Library Association, which would provide 51 percent of the amount for capital outlay. The Appalachia Program was expected to provide approximately $65,000 and the other $33,000 would have to come from local sources which are not tax funds.
Before the library could qualify for the funds for constructing a new library, it would first have to be organized and already giving library services to the people.
The small white house immediately south of the current Adams Funeral Home on 3rd Street SW was chosen as the temporary library facility. It opened later in 1967.
Mrs. James D. (Lois) Neal of Hickory was named librarian and Mrs. Paul (Susie) Barkley of Alexander County was chosen as assistant librarian, according to a 1967 Winston–Salem Journal article by Laura Ferguson on the facility.
As in the 1930s, local civic and service clubs helped to get the new library organized. Clubs and individuals donated books, and libraries elsewhere offered extra copies of their own books as well as assistance.
A March 12, 1970 article in The Taylorsville Times by Glenn Mays noted the library owned 7,500 books, but needed 35,000 to adequately serve the county. Word came in June 1970 that the federal funding of $152,000 had been approved. This was $86,894 from the Appalachia Regional Commission and $65,106 from the Library Services and Construction Act Title II under the Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare. Architecture III of Hickory was chosen as architect for the facility. Local funds of $17,500 were available for the purchase of the site one block south of the courthouse, and additional local funds would supply the furnishings and equipment.
Twin-City Builders, Inc., of Newton, was general contractor for the 70×100 ft. brick structure.
A Sept. 15, 1971 item in The Alexander News mentioned that a check for $1,300 from the Alexander County Friends of the Library Emergency Fund Raising Committee was presented to the County Commission to give to the library, to enable the library to continue to receive federal money. Contributing organizations included the Taylorsville Town Council and Mayor, Read A Book Club in memory of Mrs. Lester Watts, The Northwestern Bank, Taylorsville Rotary Club, Wit & Wisdom Book Club, Walker Insurance Agency, First National Bank of Catawba, Bethlehem Realty, Bethlehem Jaycees, Kiddie Korner Day Nursery, Bethlehem Extension Homemaker’s Club, The Flower and Gift Shop, Bethlehem Lions, Taylorsville Savings & Loan Association, Rhodes Day Elledge furniture store, Taylorsville Woman’s Club, Bethlehem Jaycettes, and many individuals.
On October 1, 1971, Mrs. Kay Harrington White began her duties as new librarian. She had been associated with the library for the previous two years and that summer had completed her master’s degree in Library Science at Appalachian State University. White replaced Lois Neal, who had held the post for four years. Neal went on to work with the State Library in Raleigh.
On March 13, 1972, the new Alexander County Library facility opened its doors to the public, which is the current location of the main branch.
The new facility proved quite popular as a meeting place for groups, such as the home demonstration clubs, community development council, local dairy producers, study clubs, and others. White noted in an article that the library hosted at least one meeting a day during the first two weeks of operation.
Then, as now, the library featured displays by local artists. Books could be mailed to patrons upon request, and the library paid full postage. The facility was open six days per week then.
Directors of the Alexander Library
The following people have served as director of the library since 1967:
• Lois Neal
• Kay White
• John Borman
• Steve Farlow
• Shirley Wayland
• Doris Stephens
• Gary Hoyle
• Phalbe Henrickson
• Laura Crooks (current director).
Crooks joined the Alexander County Library in mid-2006 when the county was planning to open its Bethlehem Branch, which is located next to the Bethlehem Realty and Bethlehem Post Office building on Rink Dam Road, west of NC 127. The Bethlehem Branch Library opened October 22, 2006. It is currently staffed by Glenda Leonard and Gloria Hamilton-Parsons.
The library has seen many things come and go over the years, as parts of the collection grow outdated and new services come along. Vinyl records and filmstrips have given way to VHS tapes then DVDs. Now, in addition to books, offering Internet research and computer lab services are an integral part of the library’s functions. In recent years, traditional books have been supplemented with eBooks and eBook reader devices are available for use in the library.
The NC Cardinal system, implemented about a year ago, offers amazing interconnectivity among libraries across the state.
Crooks notes that nearly as many items go out from Alexander to other libraries as come in to local patrons through NC Cardinal.
She said the new system is a great boon to the library. “We don’t have to spend huge sums of money to offer new items now, although we still purchase new items regularly for circulation,” Crooks stated.
Plans for a Stony Point library facility are in the works, Crooks added.
Festivities this week
This week’s fiftieth anniversary events included a County Commission proclamation read by Commission Vice Chairman Ronnie Reese on Monday, April 17, as well as a Board of Trustees meet & greet and refreshments.
Tuesday, April 18, was a library card registration or renewal drive with patrons entered to win a gift basket.
Today, (Wednesday, April 19) the library had a Scavenger Hunt and offered photo ops for “shelfies” so patrons could take their pictures and share on social media.
Thursday, April 20, will be Family Game Day, with games all day and Library Bingo at 5:30 pm.
The festivities will culminate with a 70s Block Party on Friday, April 21 from 2 pm – 5 pm with food, music, “make a pet rock,” face painting, Library LypSync Battle at 4:30 pm, followed by Poetry After Hours at 6:00 pm.
For more information, stop by the Main library, located at 77 First Avenue SW in Taylorsville, visit it online at www.alexanderlibrary.org or call 828-632-4058, or visit the Bethlehem Branch at 45 Rink Dam Road, or phone (828) 495-8753.