Wait! Don't turn the page. It's actually quite interesting: Between 2006 and 2007, patrons of the Buncombe County library system checked out 1.5 million items. Circulation in the 11-branch system was up in many categories during the same period, especially children's books and audio books. More than 180,000 people signed up for Internet access (and not all of them were looking for pictures of Britney Spears' shaved head).
There are other trends afoot. Over the years, says Director Ed Sheary, the system has become less centralized. "There's been a shift out of downtown," he says. "Pack Memorial Library has historically been the research branch, but more and more patrons are doing research at our other branches, or on the Internet." There are other factors contributing to Pack's mild decline, Sheary suggests, including parking, which "has gotten tighter and tighter downtown."
Pack may yet have a chance to redeem itself; this spring, bids go out for a planned $3 million renovation of the concrete monolith. The top floor, which is currently used as administrative space, will be turned into a secure, climate-controlled research room, housing Pack's vast North Carolina Collection. The change will free up nearly 12,000 feet of the library's street-level space, creating a more comfortable situation for computer access and better working conditions for library employees. More to the point, the library will move and expand its bathroom facilities, which have brooded for years next to the children's room downstairs.
Sheary expects the project will take two years, but says he believes the library will be able to remain open during much of the work.
"The plan," he says, "is to get another 20 years out of this building."