Silver anniversary goes into library history books

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comApril 30, 2014 

— May 6 is a date for the reference section. But staff at Lake Wylie Public Library won’t mind if the public wants to check it out.

This year, the date marks 25 years at the smallest branch in the York County Library system. And there may be a story or two shared to mark the milestone.

Maybe the one where air conditioning went out one Memorial Day, and the service tech found a 5-foot black snake in the unit. There was the summer of vultures maybe eight years ago. A volt of birds perched on a library trellis and occasionally peeked through a top glass window.

“It was kind of creepy,” said Nancy Monts-Rayfield, branch manager.

Much more often the library was predictably quiet. Which isn’t to say there weren’t interesting chapters along the way.

The library will host a drop-in reception celebration in the Hull-Ryde meeting room from 2 to 4 p.m. May 6 with refreshments.

A look back

It was spring, 1989. The third Indiana Jones movie still had three weeks until opening, longer still until it hit VHS. Books on a broken down Berlin Wall, Y2K and smartphone apps would’ve been shelved in the fiction section.

Lake Wylie was a different place, too.

“We anticipated the growth,” said Toni Steedman, who led a community group lobbying for the library. “In hindsight, we never knew. It was vastly different.”

Steedman headed a “fairly precedent-setting” collection of residents who saw how many neighbors drove to Clover for its library, and asked for something local. In seven years the group raised $120,000 to build it, a quarter of the total cost. They worked with Crescent Resources, the company donating the site.

Steedman met with the governor and county officials. She met with library leaders. The idea of a community deciding where a branch would go – it largely was River Hills and individual lakefront homes back then – rather than the library system was, to borrow a term loosely, a novel idea.

“It was very important to set a precedent,” said Steedman, who moved to Charlotte a decade after the branch opened on Blucher Circle and now works in children’s television. “Libraries aren’t just about books. They’re a center for culture and the arts. Even with all the technology we have, I believe libraries are as important or more important today than ever.”

Dean Boyd came on as manager with a staff of three. The branch had 5,000 titles available the 33 hours a week it opened. One of those three was Monts-Rayfield, who became manager in 1992. She recalls the branch opening amid a catalog of local culture.

Hugo, mascot of the brand new Charlotte Hornets, frenzied fans a few miles north off Tyvola Road. The team completed its inaugural season a month earlier. Hurricane Hugo came from the south that fall.

“We were just a baby,” Monts-Rayfield said. “Luckily no real horrible damage. It was really just superficial.”

What hasn’t changed?

In a span that’s covered hardback to laptop to e-readers, library staff has to think a little for something that hasn’t changed. The emergence of a well-regarded Clover School District and programming for children has more young families coming in now. Internet access “had not come into play” then, Monts-Rayfield said. The biggest changes are technological.

“VHS, that was something new we were offering,” Monts-Rayfield said. “Now we have DVDs, downloadable.”

While it still doesn’t compete with incoming foot traffic, there’s now a segment of library members utilizing online databases and other services from home.

“We’re the jumping off point,” Monts-Rayfield said.

The road from a monthly bookmobile stop to a six-day-a-week operation comes filled with new milestones. And new services that fill the library with guests like Ralph Neely. Neely lives in North Carolina but regularly stops by the Lake Wylie branch he’s been a member of “maybe five or six years.”

“I have to pay a little extra to come over here,” Neely said. “I just love this library.”

Some libraries seem like day cares at times, he said, and others like hollowed halls. The one in Lake Wylie is comfortable and staffed with people able and willing to help, Neely said.

“When I was a kid, you had to whisper,” he said. “That’s grandma’s and grandpa’s library.”

Neely isn’t alone. Last year the Lake Wylie branch offered 32,681 titles and circulated 90,000 items with a staff doubled since its opening. People like Neely prove even in a world of videos, audio cassettes, CDs, online queries and decimal system shelving, there is such a thing as consistency.

“The constant that makes this job a joy is the caliber of the Lake Wylie patron,” Monts-Rayfield said. “From our friends we’ve known since the start to our new residents, the people who visit our branch library are a pleasure to serve.”

Which may be a fitting tribute for a library built by community demand, then and moving forward.

“That community aspect is still impressive,” Monts-Rayfield said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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