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Swain leaders eye library expansion

By Kristin Fox

More than 50 years after opening its doors, the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City is looking to expand its facilities, an answer to the library’s acute need for more space. Plans are to renovate the current downtown library increasing its size, using the 0.53-acre property to its maximum potential.

The proposed renovated, larger building will give the library 72 percent additional space providing Swain County residents greater free access to new technology, hands-on learning, and personal enrichment opportunities for people of all ages. The project will allow the library to expand existing as well as add new programs. The expansion will give the library the ability to provide simultaneous services and programming.

The planned Marianna Black Library expansion and renovation will add dedicated spaces for these essential services:

Education Support — With separate spaces for teens and expanded children’s areas, the library will provide supplementary educational programs for all ages, from early childhood through elementary, middle and high school grades. Working with local schools and community colleges, students can expand their interests in STEM programs, recapture lost academic credits and prepare for colleges and careers. The designated teen area will include books, music and video collections and will be an area where teens can socialize, use computers/tablets and plug in their own digital devices. The larger children’s area will have space for reading, using tablets and devices, for group activities and programming, as well as a small restroom.
Small Rooms for Meetings — The addition of private rooms for various social services – including legal, mental health and economic support – will provide a much-needed setting for business meetings and group collaborations within the community.
Career and Technology Center — The addition of flexible ‘co-working’ spaces will be utilized for professional development training and on-site business incubation as well as adult education and career advancement. Theseparate Career & Technology Center will allow for informal computer use and software instruction, as well as robotics, STEM, 3-D printer, music recording, & other collaborative projects. The desks and tables will be smaller with more flexibility of arrangement.
Employment Counseling and Support — The library is now the permanent Swain County location for NC Works, the state’s workforce development system connecting businesses with qualified talent. Expansion will provide a private office for counseling.
Community Room — A central meeting place will be available during and after library hours for community information gatherings and collaborations, including host speakers and workshops.
Internet Services — The library’s high-speed connectivity makes it a reliable online resource for the community, particularly for families and students in the underserved areas of the county.
Multi-purpose room  A large, adaptable multi-purpose room will be included to provide for a variety of programming, guest speakers, workshops, group projects, movies, and space to produce content for e-learning & other virtual programs.
Carolina Room A special room will be available for reference and study about the area and to serve as a small meeting room.

The project will also include more computers, additional parking spaces, a drive-up book drop, after-hours access for groups to the community room, restrooms and prep kitchen and outdoor spaces for free, after-hours internet access and safe entering and exiting the building.

The proposed library site is designed to meet the requirements for ADA accessibility and will provide accessible parking with accessible routes to entrances for patrons and employees. The new proposed building interior is also designed for complete ADA accessibility throughout the library.

Plans for the Marianna Black Library are to renovate and expand the existing 9,550 sq. foot facility to an updated facility with 16,450 sq. ft. The expansion and renovation are estimated to cost $4.32 million. That total includes $3 million for construction; $222,000 for architect & engineering fees; $750,000 for furnishings, furniture and equipment; and $300,000 as a contingency. Other expenses include $50,000 for marketing, project management and administration.

Construction on the library renovation and expansion is scheduled to begin in March 2023. The initial work on the library will be excavation and construction of a retaining wall. Later in the year, further exterior site work will be completed as well as an expansion on the south and east sides. In early 2024, the interior is expected to be renovated. In the second half of 2024, the new entrance and community room is anticipated to be constructed completing the project.

The early days of the library can be traced back to the work of Bryson City community leader Marianna Fischer Black. In 1929, interested in promoting reading in Swain County, she began circulating books in Bryson City out of two old suitcases.

The next year, the Marianna Black Library had its first physical location. In 1930, the library was created in the grand jury room of the Old Courthouse with about 2,000 books.

In 1935, the Works Progress Administration built the community building on the square and Black was given some space there for her library. Black continued her library work until she died in 1960.

By the mid-1960’s, the library had continued to expand, now under the direction of Anna Lou Casada, outgrowing its space in the community building. A citizens group, headed by Edgar Fisher, Roberta Whitaker, Mercedith Bacon, R. L. Lyday and John Wikle, began a drive to raise funds to build a new library. These six individuals secured a Library Services and Construction Act grant of $114,000 and an Appalachian Regional Development grant of $46,000. The group also raised $40,000 in local matching funds bringing the total funds for the new library to $200,000.

In 1970, the library opened in the new building with more space to meet the growing demand for library services and with more room for books and magazines.

Throughout the years, the Marianna Black Library has continued to add services and technologies to answer to the evolving needs of the community. With each added service, space has become more and more in demand. Activities like tutoring, computer instruction, career counseling and small group meetings currently compete for the same space and, when privacy is desired, there’s no real viable option in the existing space of the current library.

The Marianna Black Library is a member of the Fontana Regional Library System, which began in 1944 when the Tennessee Valley Authority sponsored a regional bookmobile to visit the most remote areas of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. Fontana Regional Library coordinates a wide range of public library services for six libraries in the region. Over the past 15 years, The Fontana Regional Library has built new libraries in Franklin and Sylva and renovated the libraries in Cashiers and Highlands.

Money to pay for the library will be generated through individuals, civic groups, bequests, business and foundation gifts/grants, and government entities at the local, state and federal level.

 The Marianna Black Library staff invite the public to come by the library, take a tour and see what is planned for the library. To schedule your tour, please call or email Jeff Delfield, Swain County Librarian, at 828-488-3030, ext. 128 or

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