June 13, 2008
A new and improved Hatteras Library opens its doors ...WITH
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
The Hatteras Branch of the Dare County Library has come a very long way
from its humble beginnings in an abandoned school house in Buxton.
Though now incorporated in the Dare County and East Albemarle Regional
library systems and housed in a newly renovated and expanded section of
the Hatteras Community Building, the Hatteras Branch library was
started independently by a few dedicated and enterprising women.
By the late 1950s, Lillie Peele had organized a small collection
of donated books into a lending service for the remote village. There
was a new school in Buxton, and the old school building in Hatteras was left empty
except for one room used by the church.
Peele added to her small collection the limited children’s books
and resource material left at the school, and in 1957, she opened
Hatteras Island’s first library in the abandoned school house.
The library was a hit with the villagers.
Melanie Foster Collins remembers how some young villagers, who shall
remain nameless, would linger on the library porch after it had closed.
When they were certain there were no cars around “they would
climb through the window and get books from a huge room filled with
books that had not yet been processed.”
The hijacked books were all returned the same way.
Peele’s niece, Yancey Foster, worked as her assistant during in
those days, helping Peele get everything set up. Foster’s
energy and love of books proved to be a huge boon to the
library’s future, and from the very beginning, she set an
ambitious course for improvement and never wavered.
When the villagers decided to build a community center, Foster made
certain that there would be room for the village library, and she was
met with no objection.
The space was set aside and Foster enlisted a group of dedicated
volunteers to help with the ambitious move. Yancey’s
husband, Gaston Foster recalls, “I never moved so many darn books
in all my life.”
Foster organized labor crews and pleaded with local people to make
furniture and shelves, while she set about the daunting task of
cataloguing all the books and organizing the space. Because she
wasn’t trained in library science, she had to learn as she went
about setting up the new library.
Foster worked to get a $7,500 grant from the Reynolds Foundation for
books, equipment and shelving. She also negotiated with the county to
get “more and better books,” worked with the regional
librarian in Elizabeth City, and attended meetings and conventions in
Always looking forward, Foster knew that the library needed to become a
part of the Dare County Library system. She started new
negotiations, and in 1977, the library received formal approval to be a
branch of the Regional Library System.
The Hatteras Branch of the Dare County Library has been housed in the same tiny section of the Community Building ever since.
Since that time, the Hatteras Branch has undergone several changes of
staff, appearance, and resources, but 30 years of accumulation and
growth was starting to catch up with the small library.
When Dare County Librarian Jonathan Wark arrived here several years
ago, he quickly realized that the Hatteras library needed some changes.
The tiny library could scarcely accommodate the nearly 14,000 volumes
it housed -- not to mention the computers and the children’s and
teen areas that had become so popular with the community.
According to generally accepted library standards, the books alone
should have taken up the entire 1,600 square feet of the library.
Books were stacked on top of shelves and in every available
corner. “There were books everywhere,” says Wark.
Not only was the library incredibly crowded, it was also rather dark
and dingy. The building used to have skylights, but a flat roof was
added some years before to fix a terrible leak that left the floor
covered in inches of water after every rain. The roof fixed the
leaking problem, but covered up the skylights, leaving the library lit
only by inadequate overhead lights.
Wark also realized that the library was badly understaffed, and in just
five years, he had secured funds to double the staff. Though the
extra help was very much needed, the tiny, one-room library could
barely accommodate them.
Wark started discussing an expansion and renovation of the space with
Ricki Shepherd, president of the Hatteras Village Civic Association
about three years ago.
They knew that they wanted to keep the library in the same place, so
they started crunching the numbers, trying to figure out what kind of
facilities the library should have based on the population it served.
Around this time last year, the Civic Association had appropriated
funds and was planning a $300,000 renovation of the Community
Unfortunately, the library did not figure into those plans.
Though it is located in the Community Building, the Hatteras Library,
as a branch of the Dare County Library system, is funded by the county
and not the Civic Association.
Any renovation or expansion of the library would require approval from
the Dare County and Regional Library Boards, funding from the Dare
County Board of Commissioners, and cooperation with the Civic
Association in order to be realized.
Luckily, all parties were on board, and last year, in a profound
example of leaders working together for the betterment of the
community, the Dare County Board of Commissioners allocated $800,000
for a total renovation and expansion of the Hatteras Branch.
The library was finally getting a much needed face-lift.
The new building was designed by Ocracoke architect Garick Kalna, and
contracted by O.C. Mitchell, Jr. Construction began the first week of
December and was slated to end in June.
Meanwhile, the library staff, led by branch manager Helen Hudson, had
moved the contents of the library into the Community Building’s
newly renovated lobby and meeting room, where they continued to operate
while three walls of the old library were being knocked out and
“It was actually nicer than the old library,” Wark jokingly said.
After closing for two weeks to move in and set up, the library was
ready, and on Thursday, May 29, ahead of schedule and under budget, the
new and improved library opened its doors to a happily shocked public.
One of the staff’s favorite quotes from opening day came from a
stunned visitor who said, “Wow! It looks like a real
The library continues to offer the same services as before, and then
some. The only difference, says Wark, is that “now we have the
space to do it right.”
At 2,500 square feet, the new library has almost twice the space as
before, including approximately 12 percent more shelf space for books
and other materials, and with more windows and new lighting, it’s
at least twice as bright.
The new library also has four Internet stations, twice as many as the
old library, and rather than being jammed into old study carrels, as
they were before, the new computers are neatly organized in a spacious,
well-lit area. The computers are also stocked with all the
Microsoft programs, and the library offers printing, copying, and
faxing services at a nominal fee.
In addition to more Internet stations, the new library now offers free
WiFi for computer savvy patrons who want to bring their own laptop
computers, and because the extra space affords room for more tables and
lots of comfortable chairs, there are plenty of options for wireless
users, and patrons in general, to work, read, relax, and enjoy the
For the not so computer savvy patron, the library offers free computer
tutoring. Naomi Rhodes used to conduct computer classes at the
library, but the staff realized over the years that because of diverse
competency levels, individual tutoring would be much more effective.
Now, those patrons who wish to get computer training, on anything from
the most basic to the most intricate of subjects, can sign up at the
library for a one-on-one session with an expert.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of the new library is the addition of
separate children’s, juvenile, and teen sections. Before,
the entire children’s section was crammed into one small area,
with picture books and elementary age reading material all together, no
tables, and no chairs for any child larger than a toddler.
Now there is a distinct area for older children with age-appropriate
reading material, space for them to sit and read, and a table where
they can do homework.
There is also a distinct area for smaller children with picture, board,
and beginning reader books, as well as a Gates computer loaded with the
popular Living Books—animated stories in which the words light up
as they are read aloud. Kind of like an educational “kiddie
The Living Books can be read in several different languages, and the
computer comes with a headphone splitter and two pint-size chairs, so
that two children, or perhaps a child and a parent, can enjoy the books
Because the Living Books have been so popular, the library now offers
registered borrowers access to a new online program called Tumble Book
Library, which has animated story books, puzzles, games, and language
learning programs, and can be accessed from home.
The Web site, tumblebooklibrary.com, had over 1,000 hits the first month it was offered.
Dare County children’s librarian, Julie McPherson, continues to
hold story hour at the library on Tuesday mornings, from 11:00 to
11:45, for children ages 3 to 5, and soon the library will start its
popular summer reading program for school-age kids from kindergarten
through fifth grade.
This year’s summer reading theme is “Catch the Reading
Bug,” and it begins June 24 with a special kick-off puppet show
by the Magic Trunk Theater. Kids can participate at the library,
at 9:30 on Tuesday mornings, or they can participate from home by
picking up a “fun sheet” at the library and returning it,
completed, for a special prize.
Teen-age patrons now have their own separate section as well, which is
a big improvement over the old library. The section has its own
computer with Internet access, where teens can do research, write
reports or papers, and complete projects. It also has shelves
stocked with young-adult fiction, non-fiction, and the increasingly
popular graphic novels, as well as a beanbag chair where students can
sit and read.
The staff hopes the addition of the separate teen area will be an
incentive for the hard to reach demographic to visit the library and
will help them remember “the sheer pleasure of reading.”
One of the most beneficial products of the library’s expansion is
probably the much-needed space set aside for the dedicated library
staff. The Hatteras Branch librarians have always worked
extremely hard to meet any request, find any information, and help
every patron who walks in. Whatever it is you’re looking
for, they can find it.
But until the new library was built, all the librarians had to work in
a space that was probably only big enough for one. Now, not only
do they have a much larger workspace behind the circulation desk,
including a real desk and office area for Branch Manager Helen Hudson,
they also have two check-out stations for maximum efficiency, as well
as an upstairs room where they can eat their lunches, take their
breaks, and also store extra volumes.
Jan Willis, a Hatteras Village resident, former member of the Library
Board, and true library devotee, has been using the Hatteras Branch
Library since 1971, when the library was “just boxes of
books” in the old school building.
Willis has seen the library through a lot of changes and hails the new library as simply “amazing.”
“The Hatteras Library is unique. It has always had its own
spirit,” she says, adding that “It really is the
community’s library; it belongs to the people.”
That idea of community ownership and involvement is a sentiment that
Jonathan Wark believes in and aims to keep intact. The
library’s new bright, open design and cozy décor makes it
feel comfortable and inviting—more like a living room than a
And even though the entire library catalog can now be accessed via
Internet at www.earlibrary.org, where registered patrons can request,
hold, and renew books from any of the East Albemarle Regional Libraries
online, the library has not lost its personal touch.
The staff is always ready to help and goes to great lengths to learn
the personal tastes of individual patrons. In addition, Wark plans to
ensure that community members play an active role in deciding what
titles to add to the collection.
The library is now funded at the state average for materials
expenditure. “I never thought I would be so happy to be
average,” Wark jokes. With that money he plans to
“let the public decide what we’re going to buy,”
believing that it will result in “a more diverse, well-rounded
collection” that is more relevant to the community it
serves. Suggestions for new titles are always welcome, and the
staff encourages everyone to let them know what they would like to see.
Wark has also enrolled the library in a new leasing program for the
extremely popular audio books. Ever so often, the library will trade
out its old titles for a fresh batch, ensuring that their collection is
Branch Manager Helen Hudson once boasted, “It is a tiny, little
one-room library, but we can put the world at the fingertips of the
Never has that been truer than now.
(Information for this article was also contributed by Lynne Foster.)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Hatteras Branch Library is located on Highway
12, situated in the Community Building between the Post Office and the
Fire Station. The library can be reached at (252) 986-2385, and the
hours of operation are:
Tuesday 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday 1 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Thursday 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Friday 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Saturday 9:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.
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