On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the town of Kill Devil Hills is obviously a hopping place in summer. The closest road to the beach has what seems like thousands of gaily painted oversized Victorian rentals with numerous balconies. But in early April the sun was warm, the surf and skies bright blue, and the sands nearly deserted.
However, a few streets inland, where the sand doesn’t threaten to overtake the tarmac, I discovered a thriving downtown. The Municipal Center, post office, senior center and the three schools for K-12 are here, and in the center of it all is the Kill Devil Hills Library (KDHL). The brick and gray shingle building is surrounded by weeping yaupon, palm trees, pines, shrubs and daffodils. By the entrance, a little foyer has a bulletin board and local information pamphlet rack. Light flows in from the atrium, plate glass windows and the smaller panes high above the shelves.
I chatted with Kathy Lassiter, Branch Manager, at the main desk. She told me that the best thing about the job and library is their relationship with the town. It’s such a close knit community that staff are familiar enough with their patron’s tastes to reserve items they’ll want. And, if someone hasn’t been in for awhile, a quick phone call is made to ensure they’re alright.
KDHL has wireless which visitors can use for free, three pacs in the stacks and eleven computers for the public. Two are reserved for job applicants, six for the adults and the three children’s have TumbleBook loaded on them so tots can access animated talking ebooks, puzzles and games and even learn languages from stories in French and Spanish.
Across from circulation is a hand cleaning station and a thriving ivy spreads atop the new book shelves. Booklists abound and a binder full of more suggestions sits below a drawing of a clipper ship. Appropriately for this ocean resort, pictures of boats are scattered around and other decorations, like a piece of driftwood with sandpipers above the plaque listing a former board of trustees, stay true to this theme. By the public view documents table, a series of hurricane photographs remind you of potential hazards and quilts, including an adorable one of a bookshelf with a cat next to a book called How to Catch a Mouse 🙂 are everywhere.
The Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Foundation recently brought in David McCullough for a program for the public. McCullough did research here as his next project will be on the Wright Brothers (Kitty Hawk is just north of town and the huge Wright Brothers National Memorial, including the First Flight Airport, is on the next block).
This busy institution opened in 1990 and is one of the three locations of Dare County Libraries. DCL has over 85,000 titles (including KDHL’s 39,000) and started in 1935. It’s one of eight in the East Albemarle Regional Library System (formed in 1964 – so they were already thinking ahead on how to maximize resources) which has a courier so materials can be picked up at or returned to any of its facilities (or at four other drops in the region).
Combining budgets helps greatly when it comes to things like purchasing ebooks and NC LIVE’s databases. DCL also has the Dare County Digital Heritage Collection with old newspapers and genealogical data and NCKnows virtual reference.
Naomi Rhodes, the reference librarian, was very helpful – she’s worked here for twelve years and does a lot with the literacy program including computer introduction, adult basic learning (ABL), the citizenship test and GED prep (which is now online so people must have computer skills to take it). The Dare Literacy Council collection is here and Naomi wrote two successful American Dream grants – the first for ESL items and the second for GED, ABL and computer literacy titles, CDs, DVDs and sets. DCL has the Cypress Resume database and staff go to job fairs sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and set up booths at the NC jobs council, health expos and “Hatteras Day at the Docks” and were going to a business expo the following week. Library Director, Jonathan Wark, is on the Rotary.
Donna Roark, Children’s Librarian, proudly showed me her space. Red cushioned chairs provide comfortable seating and bright artwork, ladybug and spider cutouts deck the walls. Multitudes of stuffed animals sit on top of the bookcases and a large white tiger stares at two abstract Native American paintings. A fish tank entrances youngsters and vivid yellow headphones help keep the room quiet.
Kid’s has board books, easy readers and book cassette combos. The Child Resource Collection assists youngsters in dealing with problems and new experiences and the building has a back porch sometimes used for storytimes. Since Easter was approaching, the deck was hosting an egg hunt that day with singing and reading. There were hidden prizes to be found among the eggs too.
Perhaps the most eye catching element in here is this quilted mural of the story told in print below the picture. It’s all about Ace, the fastest bird on the beach, who shelters in the library book drop for the winter after his nest is blown away. He begins to listen to the calming voice heard at storytimes, which eventually allows him to teach himself to read. He feathers his nest with pages from returned tomes and charms a stalking cat and his fellow avians with the tales he tells.
Twenty five kids (half homeschooled and half public) wrote the yarn and came up with the fabric design with help from the Dare County Arts Council and others (including a $5000 arts grant). The children assisted with the beading and the library provided space, snacks and drinks.
The library has Tales to Tails where reluctant readers read to therapy dogs (the brochure presents snaps of the canines including a delightful one of a bulldog with reading glasses) and that day, a bunny was coming to the afternoon Hooked on Books session. KDHL has game days and visits from NC Park Service rangers. Jonathan promotes baby literacy and this year’s summer reading program is about science. Three big name performers will be coming in to wow the 150 or so kids who participate.
Ms. Donna and Kathy read at Kid’s Fest and Read Across America and the Hatteras Storytelling Festival. The Head Start program with the Children and Youth Partnership for Dare County gives children certificates and their own books to keep. There’s also a party with pizza and kids dress up in their best frocks and suits.
The facebook page promotes things like the Master Garden Series and has lots of photos of Santa visits, craft and animal programs and SRP events. A flickr account is loaded with shots of customers having a great time.
This branch has one part time and seven full time employees. Funding comes from the county with the state chipping in, and the library hangs onto fines. A 501c3 foundation began in 2002 and provided the monies to start the ebook collection as well as supporting other services.
Home bound delivery gets materials to shut ins and a meeting room with audiovisual equipment seats fifty. Any non profit can schedule it.
KDHL has some cool features like this compact music cabinet. Scratch and sniff bookmarks – pickles, worms, dirt, popcorn, flowers, cotton candy, jelly beans and coffee (which the adults love) – are available and contacting them is easy with book shaped DCL magnets that sport the phone number and email address.
There’s a tax form table, and no limit on how many CDs or DVDs you can borrow. Magazines go out for a whopping 21 days and they kindly give a five day grace period plus anyone 17 and under can read fines away – just 30 minutes reduces fines by a buck.
The teen section has a cheerful mobile and classic prints above the adolescent offerings.
A very impressive facility for this lovely seaside community of just under 7000.