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Rowan Public Library celebrates future West Branch

By Laurie Lyda

Rowan Public Library

CLEVELAND — Last Saturday, the Cleveland Town Hall grounds hosted Rowan Public Library’s West Fest, a celebration of the forthcoming West Branch Library.

The smell of Wowza’s freshly cooked barbecue filled the air, and the blue sky and cooler temperatures set the tone for the day.

The fall-themed festival featured a Brightstar Theatre production of “Alice in Wonderland,” music by Matthew Weaver and Clay Lunsford, and a community drum circle led by Nancy Gaines of Salisbury’s Center for Faith & the Arts. Vendors — including West Rowan High School and the Pedal Factory — lined the parking lot.

The heart of the festival was honoring the West Rowan community and engaging with West Rowan Library’s future customers — a perspective echoed by many.

“Clay and I were honored to perform and be a part of a new, exciting chapter in RPL history,” Weaver said. “I’ve been a patron for 34 years, and I’m thankful for the hard work of the staff and volunteers who make the library a community of family and friends.”

“RPL wanted to celebrate the future West Branch in a big way. We wanted to let the residents of West Rowan know without a doubt that we are joining the neighborhood,” said Melissa Oleen, deputy director of the library. “It is an exciting time to work at RPL and be a part of this project.”

A midday community forum, led by library Director Jeff Hall and Oleen, offered information about the history of the West Branch project and invited feedback about what services and resources will be offered. Every seat was taken in the Town Hall meeting room. The consensus was that the library is “long overdue.”

“Establishing a new library is special kind of achievement that does not happen very often. In addition to a justifiable need, many different entities have to be in agreement at the same time funding is available,” Oleen said.

Participants offered insights, citing hopes for good parking, literacy support, quick access and an environment that’s child- and tech-friendly.

They said they would like to see bestsellers among West’s collection, including large-print versions.

Many are hoping for access to email, fax and scanning services, programs for all ages, concerts, connection to Salisbury’s Edith M. Clark History Room, schoolwork help and volunteer opportunities.

Some suggested accommodating shifts at local plants and factories, tutoring availability, after-school hours and access, and Sunday hours.

“We are grateful that so many participated in the forum and shared their thoughts, either verbally or through the written feedback forms. We’re taking all of the valuable feedback we received under advisement and intend to use it to help West Branch meet the needs of its community,” said Oleen.

The forum left many energized about prospect of having a library right down the street.

“I’m so excited about this that I can’t see straight,” said Joy Steele, a resident of Cleveland whose husband is former Mayor John Steele.

The community has been asking for this for a long time, she added, noting that her four grandchildren who live in the area will all benefit from the West Branch Library. “It’s been a dream come true for a lot of people.”

Others echoed Steele’s sentiments.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Verra Avery of Cleveland, during her visit at the RPL Foundation and West Capital Campaign booth.

“After working for so long to make this project a reality, it was wonderful to hear the positive comments and enthusiasm for a West Branch from festival-goers of all ages,” said Hall. 

And there was much enthusiasm at the festival.

“Many families expressed how thrilled they were to have a branch of their own. Folks were invited to jot down their favorite books and materials that they want to see in their new branch, and responses varied from ‘YA books’ to ‘J.R.R. Tolkein’ to ‘Everything!,’” said Abby Hardison, adult services supervisor.

West Fest also offered tours of the future library site — the current media center and auditorium of Cleveland Elementary School. The Little Library, RPL’s honor-system library housed in a historic building on Town Hall property, was also open.

West Fest also featured a variety of games and activities. The library’s Game Zone ran the gamut and included yard games of Connect Four, pumpkin and face painting, and fun with bubbles.

The library’s mascot, Roary the Reading Tiger, prowled the festival, handing out candy and dancing. A makerspace booth offered the chance to experiment with learning tools like Squishy Circuits and 3D Doodle pens.

Library administration assistant Cyndii Owen enjoyed seeing everyone else’s enjoyment.

“You could hear the excitement in the talk about (West Branch) taking shape,” she said. “I enjoyed being part of that excitement.”

Festival-goers had the opportunity to learn about RPL programming, the RPL Foundation and the Friends of the Library. Additional vendors included Family Crisis Council of Rowan County, Genealogical Society of Rowan County, Rowan County Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Literacy Council, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Rowan Helping Ministries, Rowan Museum, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency, Red Cross Pillowcase Project, State Employees’ Credit Union, Servpro, Smart Start Rowan, SoFul Yoga & Wellness, Trellis Support Services, Woodleaf Civitans and Woodleaf United Methodist Church Faith Community Nurse.

Though West Fest may be over, the West Branch Capital Campaign continues. Donations of any amount can be made at any library branch. Donors will receive a cling or magnet featuring the campaign’s logo.

All gifts are recognized in the library’s monthly newsletter, and gifts of $500 or more will be recognized on a donor wall in West Branch’s main entry.

To learn more about how to support West Branch, call 704-216-8240.

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