June 13,  2008

A new and improved Hatteras Library opens its doors  ...WITH SLIDESHOW


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 Raleigh.

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 Building. 

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 rebuilt.

“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 library!”

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 library. 

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 karaoke.” 

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 together.

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 stuffy library. 

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 always updated.

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 island community.”

Never has that been truer than now.

(Information for this article was also contributed by Lynne Foster.)


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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