Though just 45 minutes from downtown Savannah, the drive passed romantic stretches of Spanish moss draped trees and marshy South Carolina Lowcountry brings you to a different world. You probably know the island as a golf mecca with beautiful beaches, but despite all the new construction, nature is thriving. Bike trails run along vast swampy tracts of abundant foliage…
…and the Hilton Head Island Public Library (HH) sits on a nicely forested campus. Circling bronze statues of petite readers, a drive leads to the landscaped entryway of the tasteful one story brick facility. Covered by peaked green metal roofs, it’s quite big – 26,900 square feet on one level. Behind varnished teak and aquamarine wrought iron benches, azalea bushes add color along the portico.
The large tiled lobby is loaded with area information on sandwich boards, wire racks and easels. A double sided mahogany vitrine shows off an array of miniature ceramic cottages and affords a tantalizing glimpse into Children’s as you sit on a polished granite slab taking in the geometric designs leading up to the glowing wood slats of the raised ceiling.
Across the hall, spilling from its confines, the Friends’ Shop sells audios, videos, kid’s materials, paperbacks and hardcovers. One of the many Friends of the Hilton Head Library contributions is a film series and I was delighted to see they were airing the wonderful Arsenic and Old Lace along with newer movies like Sully.
HH has a number of programs and several book groups (one for seniors). Meditation Mondays, a legal clinic, Introduction to iPhone, software and internet classes, yoga, Spanish-Language Library Orientation, a flute concert and talks on local history and preservation or on what it’s like to hike the entire 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail are just a sampling.
Down a corridor resembling a gallery, the large meeting room seats 140. For more intimate occasions, the small conference room has a capacity of 25 and sectionals can be arranged to create a long table surrounded by snazzy purple wheelie chairs. They also have four little study enclosures each outfitted with a computer.
HH is one of five locations of Beaufort County Library (BCL). The system has a foundation and a wide variety of community partners allows them to maximize services. Two of the branches have media labs and in May a new bookmobile starts its route.
Inside, by the oak planters flanking security gates, there’s a handy wheelchair and walker. Natural light from high panes floods the interior and to the right is an elegant circulation desk, spiffy checkout terminal and holds self pickup for their 116,000 items.
An unfinished jigsaw puzzle beckons as do featured titles topping low cases and round kiosks and displayed in the New Books cabinet by the front door. Art work and wall sculptures complement attractive furnishings and a circular podium of PACs leads to some of the fifteen adult PC’s…
…and then to Teen Central’s six additional stations. Young adults lounge on bean bags or barstools accessing the wifi and perusing manga. Posters tacked to racks of popular YA novels promote tweens and teens acrylic painting or invite them to feast on pizza while solving an after hours murder mystery or celebrating the Superbowl at the Madden Football Tourney (kids have one too, but during the day).
BCL has a Pinterest account and a very busy facebook page loaded with pictures – I had to laugh at one of a teensy girl reading to an enormous dog about five times her size. Videos from another branch show the building from a drone’s perspective and adolescents demonstrating a Rube Goldberg machine. Photos of happenings range from author talks to the Orchestra Petting Zoo to a lecture on preserving the past by gathering memories from your elders and a Civil War re-enactor describing the horrific conditions faced by the injured. Notices remind you of Conversation Café and seminars for social security planning or end of life issues.
The BCL website offers Hoopla music, movies, TV shows, graphic novels and more plus 3M ebooks and audiobooks, LearningExpress, Mango Languages and Discus (Digital Information for South Carolina Users) state wide (and mostly state funded) periodical database. Signup for emails when new titles are added in your favorite genre or scan your branch’s very own newsletter. A page for Black History Month highlights recommended materials in multiple formats and instruction and exhibits on researching African-American genealogy as well as a discussion of the Gullah language, still spoken by a quarter million inhabitants of this coastal region, led by a writer versed in the subject.
Events on the electronic calendar include coding, quilting, Pokemon, math, cooking, coloring and chess clubs, line dancing, violin classes, Zumba and 3D printing, video editing and stop motion animation sessions. They have a winter reading program and I was salivating over the Second Annual Chocolate Olympics.
By the magazines, a reading area looks onto a peaceful garden alive with palms and ferns. Vines trail from ceramic pots and ground covering between flagstones makes an interesting checkerboard pattern by a three tiered fountain.
If you get locked out as I did, tall decorative gates take you through a wall swathed in ivy, up a path and back to the foyer where, saving the best for last, I went into the kid’s room.
Children’s Librarian Greg, a camera shy 15 year HH veteran, kindly turned on the overhead stars that shine in a night sky down into the stage/storytime chamber where Wee Read Storytime for tiny tots and one with hands on activities for older boys and girls take place.
Youth has four game computers and two internet. Stuffed animals crowd shelf tops and shamrocks and shiny green garlands proclaim the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday.
Caretakers sit on the red rocker by sunny yellow chairs as their charges play on the race track rug. If the baskets of toys fails to occupy children, parents can pull fun things to do from clear containers labeled by age and theme.
Plentiful storage cupboards keep it neat and early literacy items are stowed in cute Pup Power luggage. Bright interlocking plastic bins are full of board books and beasts clutching cherished titles adorn the walls.
HH has special evening bedtime tales, Legos and a movie, Drop-in Crafts and a party for Winnie the Pooh’s birthday. Something on a Stick Day for young ones conjures up images of all sorts of tasty treats.
The Family Success Center has six PCs and can also act as a computer lab.
The island has about 50,000 full time residents, but the population triples during vacation season. HH closed for a bit last year due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, just one scary reminder of the perils of living in paradise.
The library has Playaway audios and launchpads preloaded with content for kids or adults which lets them experience the tablet concept before buying. MP3 audios are available and selected students get around bad or nonexistent internet access at home by borrowing a SmartSpot device that sets up a mobile hot spot, so they are basically loaning wifi!
Cathy, the reference librarian, helpfully gave me facts and figures. I envy her as I adored my eleven years in that position. As a trivia buff, it was the dream job, but by the time I left, the internet was so pervasive, true “reference questions” were a much smaller part of how we assisted patrons. As the greatest segment of their population is older than sixty five, she still does the reference of a decade ago since many elderly customers don’t use the web.
Behind Cathy, a giant grizzly bear watches over the local history texts near back issues of newspapers and microfiche equipment.
Rarer district treasures reside in the stunning South Carolina Reading Room. Evoking a private library of an ancient mansion, a movable ladder provides access to tomes high up on the floor to ceiling shelves and a pretty Queen Anne escritoire tempts you to grab a quill pen and parchment. Upholstered chairs by the cozy fireplace and two rectangular tables supply ample space to study a volume from the business collection housed here.
At the back of the stacks, sea glass shaded sconces illuminate carrels and little bronze birds floating overhead add to the illusion of being outdoors.
Hilton Head is lucky to have such a lovely library and the dedicated, innovative and friendly staff and volunteers are icing on the cake.