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Pack Memorial Library: Helping Imagination Take Flight

Barefoot kids getting library books
Librarian Katherine Case checks out books for young borrowers at Pack Library Bookmobile. Photo credit: 1951, Courtesy of NC Room, Pack Library

By Colleen Watson

Imagination … one of the many things available at the public library. Whether we’re reading a work of fiction, or accessing information and knowledge, libraries open up our minds, moving us toward creativity and, yes, even a better understanding of nature and humanity. Books open up the world.

But imagine this …

Your access is limited. The library is only available through membership or subscription. I’m sorry; you have to pay to read that book.

Imagine your community suddenly being closed off to the wonderful innovative services and programs provided by the library.

Imagine your children no longer having access to books or being able to freely participate in library reading programs.

Imagine yourself — the you as a child — entering a library for the first time. Do you remember the excitement of picking up a book? Think about that first book you were able to check out and take home. Now take those memories and throw them away, because the library’s door was closed to you.

Free or public libraries are essential and actually help create a community that is educated and literate. Libraries provide a source for cultural and intellectual energy, providing a place to meet, a program to attend, a book to read.

Jim Blanton, the new Buncombe County Public Library Director, explains, “Libraries hold a special place in our communities as central hubs for lifelong learning and community engagement.” Through foundational resources, programs and services, libraries “offer the transformative capacity to help citizens achieve their full potential.”  

In Asheville, the first library was established in 1879. This was one of the subscription libraries popping up in many places around the country.

exterior of old library building
Pack Memorial Public Library as it was in 1919 on Pack Square. Photo credit: Courtesy of NC Room, Pack Library

While public libraries were not new to the US at that time, it took philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie to infuse funding into the system before it became more obvious that libraries should be open and available to everyone, and thus supported by tax dollars.

40 years after the founding of the Asheville (subscription) Library on Pack Square, it officially became the Pack Memorial Public Library when it opened its doors to Buncombe County residents as a free library.

It was 1919, and since that day, Jim says, “Libraries support all stages of learning, from early childhood to postsecondary and beyond. They serve as a primary means for people to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to pursue life goals and ambitions. Ultimately, libraries ensure that we have a vibrant, engaged community, where everyone has access to the tools they need to succeed and thrive.”

This, then, is cause for celebration.

The Pack Memorial Library is celebrating its Free Library Centennial with creative activities and community involvement. It’s a celebration not to be missed with events scheduled for Friday, July 26. (See the sidebar for activities and locations.)

Erin Makara, Adult Program Coordinator for the Pack Memorial Library, is spearheading the Centennial Celebration and is excited about the opportunity. “Celebrating 100 years of being a free public library feels very special to me. I get to be that person who works beyond books to find programs that interest people. I get to build partnerships with people in the community.”

For the Centennial Celebration, connecting with community organizations and businesses has helped create wide-ranging and interesting events. Many are designed to draw attention to the importance of libraries and their support to communities.

There are also a number of events targeted toward children. According to Jesse Figuera, Pack Library’s Youth Services Librarian, “A library provides the means to change the trajectory of a child’s life. We offer digital resources and exciting, memorable programming in a welcoming space, where families can learn and have fun together.

Because our library is free, it becomes a safe place where children feel comfortable asking for what they need, and parents feel good about saying YES. We are proud to open these doors to children, and we are grateful to be of service to our youngest book lovers.”

Erin adds, “When I was little, I thought of the library as this magical place and librarians were the stewards of the space. They greeted me as soon as I walked in, gave book suggestions and introduced me to many different worlds and authors.”  

And looking back to those early days, the concept of the public library was so popular that within a few decades the first Pack Memorial Library had outgrown itself. The city’s proposed Civic Center project in the 1970s provided the perfect opportunity to build a new library. The effort was led by architect Anthony Lord, chairman of the library board, and opened in 1978 at its current location in downtown Asheville.

Now that Erin works in a library, she says, “I noticed the role of libraries and librarians was changing. No longer was it a quiet space, but a space for people to come together to discuss ideas, teach classes and workshops, even to workout. The library has become a community space, welcoming everyone.

Libraries gave me access to books, which bridged the gap between worlds when I was little, introducing me to all different people, creatures and cultures. Now, libraries get to bridge gaps in reality. Involving our community more, we get to be loud, have fun, and embrace learning beyond books, which is very exciting.”

Supporting that effort is the Friends of Pack Library. This important group provides key financial support to help fund necessary items or events — such as the Centennial Celebration — that may fall outside of the library’s annual budget.

Bookends, the used bookstore managed by volunteers, is located just inside the Pack Memorial Library and is open during regular library hours. Gently used books of all genres, as well as other items such as Audio Books, CDs, DVDs, comic books and graphic novels, are sold at very reasonable prices with the funds raised benefiting the library, and consequently the community.

Book sales take place periodically and on Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20, the annual sale of coffee table books, along with a sampling of antiques and collectibles will be held in the Lord Auditorium. The Friends’ sale of antiques and collectibles with added inventory will be held on Friday, October 19 and Saturday, October 20. During these sales, all books in Bookends will be half price.

A special Friends’ book bag was created to support the Centennial Celebration. Designed by Kim Anderson, Creative Director of 50+ Living, you can pick one up for $5.00 at Pack Memorial Library.

The Buncombe County Public Library system has grown substantially since that first day, with the Pack Memorial Library having more than 150,000 items available for review and checkout and the North Carolina Room serving as a hub of information about our area. The library’s services and programs have continued to expand, while remaining free and open to the public.

While Jim is new to Asheville, he’s not new to libraries. About the Pack Memorial Library, he says, “We have a passionate, talented staff, fantastic Friends of the Library volunteers supporting our efforts, great branch libraries throughout the community, and a growing effort to provide outreach beyond our physical locations.”  

Anchored as it is on Haywood Street, the Pack Memorial Library is a community center that continues to thrive while changing with the times. Jim adds, “In my view we’ve only just begun to explore opportunities, and in a creative community like ours, the sky is the limit in terms of what’s possible.”

Public libraries are critically important to you and to society as a whole. As such, it’s important that they remain open, free and available to everyone. Libraries provide a solid foundation, one on which our society is built and therefore, it’s important for us all to continue to support them.

Over the past couple of decades, many people have said that books will eventually go away and we will become a digital society, but libraries have surprised many of those naysayers. Let’s face it, books cannot be replaced by a blue screen. Holding a wonderfully, graphic children’s book with drawings of dragons, bunnies, or hedgehogs cannot possibly be felt or viewed appropriately on a digital device. Holding a book, feeling its pages, the weight of it, is not nearly the same thing. There’s something timeless and relevant in books, whether they be new releases, or the antiquarian books of a by-gone era.

Programs provided by public libraries can’t be replaced by interactive video. If you haven’t been to your public library recently, I encourage you to go. And this Centennial Celebration is the perfect opportunity. Stop in and find out what’s happening. It’s a community gathering place that focuses on cultural activities, literacy and intellectual pursuits that cannot be found anywhere else.

According to Erin, “This Centennial Celebration is about our library existing as a free space for everyone in the community. I look forward to seeing how libraries and librarians continue to transform, progress, and connect with everyone while maintaining the air of magic it’s had for years. Libraries are always there, a place where there’s something for everyone, a place to learn, have fun, and relax, a place to grow, and meet new people, a place to not feel lonely; there’s nothing quite like them.”


For more information on Bookends, visit their Facebook page at:

For information about the Buncombe County Library system, go to:


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