Life in our Foothills May 2022 – Polk County Public Libraries

Published 10:48 am Monday, May 9, 2022

Opening Doors to Magical Experiences


When three kids come barreling down the stairs wildly waving their own library cards, you know there is something special here. These kids were all business, and they were on a mission. They were in the Columbus branch of the Polk County Public Libraries to have fun. A load of it. And while they were at it, they were learning…more than you can imagine. The staff is quick to point out that this is not the kind of library where a staff member tries to keep patrons, of any age, quiet. They expect kids and adults to make a bit of noise while they are in this happy place.

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These three siblings know a good thing when they see it. And as frequent visitors, they could be tour guides. They know every inch of the newly redesigned “Children’s Library,” and the rest of the 16,000 square feet sprawling two-story building of the Columbus Library as well.


Marcie Dowling (Library Director) and Jen Pace Dickenson (Youth Services Librarian) were pumped to tell their story. Surrounded by books, they were more than motivated to talk about the magic of the Polk County Public Libraries. 


Polk County Public Libraries should be designated a local treasure. The two branches (Columbus and Saluda) average nearly 60,000 foot-traffic visits throughout the year. But that’s only part of the picture. It’s also impressive at the number of people who access library services from their homes. Over 15,000 attended 288 unique programs from their homes in the past year and total circulation was over 155,000 items.


When the pandemic first surfaced, the Polk County Public Libraries were quick to adapt to the challenges. They increased the number of programs available online, and they also offered free wi-fi for families without good Internet connections or with no Internet at all. The library kept their wi-fi on 24/7 so people could access the service from the parking lot. Even with pandemic restrictions easing and more and more users returning to the two branches, the online programming continues to grow. 


If you haven’t been in a library lately, or specifically the Polk County Public Libraries…you are in for a pleasant shock. The Columbus and Saluda Libraries offer so much more than just shelves of dusty books. A library card becomes a golden ticket to all the libraries offer. And the library cards are free even if you’re from out of county or out of state. This card opens the world of enlightenment and entertainment. The library has well over 10,000 library cards in use including one for every Polk County student who wants one.


Polk County has two library branches. The main branch in Columbus was opened in 2006. The branch in downtown Saluda opened in 2000. While there isn’t a bookmobile anymore, Rita Owens, who used to drive the Bookmobile, still delivers books to homes for homebound patrons as well as local retirement homes and daycares. Jen Pace Dickenson remembers checking out books from the Bookmobile when it made its appearance in Saluda prior to the opening of their own branch.


There are a couple of “boards” that help oversee the library operations. There is a volunteer Board of Directors made up of community members appointed by the Polk County Commissioners. The Friends of the Polk County Libraries is the fundraising wing of the library. The Friends of the Libraries operate an ongoing book sale at the Columbus branch with items added each week and new deals each month. Most books and DVDs are $1 each and children’s books are only 25 cents.


It’s obvious that in this age of electronics, libraries have learned to adapt. Marcie and Jen feel certain that reading is as popular as ever, but the way people read is ever-changing. Many people want the feel of a “real” book in their hands while others love carrying a whole stack of books on an electronic device. In the end, the result is the same. Jen points out that, “We have something for everyone.” Marcie is quick to agree and adds, “We might surprise you with what we have to offer.” 


Being surprised at what the libraries offer is an understatement. Totally amazing would be more fitting. We are fortunate to have such an incredible public resource with truly something for everyone.


Some of What the Polk County Public Libraries Offer


  • Traditional book circulation including periodicals, DVDs, and CDs. There’s also a Library of Things where it’s possible to check out board games, craft kits, STEM kits, and even cookie-making kits complete with the pans. The library also has ecoEXPLORE backpacks developed by the North Carolina Arboretum. Each backpack contains a butterfly net, bugnoculars, insect-viewing box, bird call whistle, magnifying glass, and a trail cam.


  • Desktop computers for work and research in the library. 


  • Wi-Fi (fiber optic) accessible anywhere inside as well as from the parking lot.


  • Onsite and digital programs for all age groups including children, teens, and adults. The Saluda Library has an entire floor open for teen use.


  • Each branch offers a community meeting space which can be reserved.


  • Regularly scheduled “swaps” where users can donate items at certain times and receive tickets to choose other items a couple of weeks later. Examples have included clothing swaps, Halloween costume swaps, and sports equipment swaps.


  • Coordinated activities with Polk County Parks & Recreation Department such as “dance parties” for the younger kids and StoryWalks® where you can read, learn, and exercise along 18 stations using the walking path at Stearns Park.


  • Zoom Passes – Pick up free passes to visit the North Carolina Arboretum and the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville. Hendersonville’s Hands-On Children’s Museum is soon to be added.


  • Maker Kits – Plans are in development to offer “kits” that patrons can use in the library such as a 3D printer, a digital converter to take old movies and convert them to today’s technology, a sewing machine for those times when you might just need it once a year.


Some of the digital resources include:


  • Hoopla – Read, listen, and watch more than one million eBooks, audiobooks, movies, music, and television shows.


  • Libby – Provides a wide selection of eBooks and e-Audiobooks for readers of all ages.


  • Transparent Language Online – Explore, learn, and polish a new language. Over 110 languages are offered including English as a Second Language.


  • Heritage Quest – is a treasury of American genealogical sources.


  • NC Cardinal – is the library’s consortium with 61 counties in the state sharing resources through a shared catalog that offers 7.7 million physical items. Any Polk County Public Libraries cardholder can use their card at any Cardinal location.


  • And if trying to figure out all these online offerings and other tech issues seem a bit bewildering, you can take advantage of the free one-on-one help sessions called, “Book-a-Tech.” A personal tech expert can help patrons with basic computer questions, show you how to download eBooks and e-audiobooks, and how to use your iPad, Kindle, tablet, or smartphone. 


Additional Info

The Columbus Library is located at 1289 West Mills Street sharing the same campus as the Polk County location of Isothermal Community College. 828/ 894-8721.


The Saluda Library is located downtown at 44 West Main Street. 828/ 722-5218.


Hours for each branch and information on accessing both on-site and digital resources can be found at:


Photos by Mark Levin