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Library board considers new storytelling branch

Following eight years of discussion, the idea for a storytelling resource center in Jonesborough may become a reality.
“The sticking point was always a location,” Dr. Pamela Miller told members of the Library Board during their April 21 meeting.
The final piece of the puzzle could be rental property identified at 107 Courthouse Square, which was the law office of the late Mark Hicks who served as the Washington County attorney for 18 years.
A member of the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild, Miller approached the board to propose establishing a branch of the county library in Jonesborough that would be dedicated to storytelling. Resources already catalogued at that site could be moved to the new location.
She said the branch would increase the awareness of Jonesborough’s connection to storytelling in a year-round manner. “Other than the Teller-in-Residence (series) and the festival in the fall, there are large gaps where is nothing about storytelling.”
Resources to fill the library branch would be easily gathered, according to Miller. “I gave several hundred storytelling books to the Jonesborough library, and several other people have donated their personal libraries upon retirement,” she said. “We already have 4,000 pieces.”
She said boxes of storytelling resources are stored in people’s homes, but discussions with the town library and East Tennessee State University have indicated neither has room to make them available to the public.
Miller toured the Courthouse Square site with Gene Hurdt, chair of the Library Board of Trustees, and said the layout would be well suited for this purpose.
“The largest room has (floor-to-ceiling) shelves that used to hold law books, so I have no doubt they would hold storytelling books,” she said.
This is important because none of the resources would be leaving the building. “This would not be a circulating library,” Miller said. “This would be a place for people to come, use them and then leave the resources because they can’t be replaced.”
A second, more secure room could serve as the listening room with computers to access the Library of Congress Folklife Collection in Washington, D.C. Historic materials on the first 30 years of the Storytelling Festival could also be available, with tapes and headphones to listen to the CDs of storytellers.
Display cases filled with storytelling memorabilia, and walls covered with National Storytelling Festival posters are other ideas. “Storytelling is not just books,” she said.
“Since it would be a non-circulating branch, we wouldn’t have to have a librarian,” said Hurdt, meaning the operation could possibly be run by volunteers and save the cost of employing staff.
According to Miller, the rent is $650 per month including water, and the landlord has discussed a five-year fixed lease. She believes donations of furniture and services would be easily found. “We could also consider forming a group called Friends of Storytelling that could focus on support for that branch,” she said.
Other advantages to the site are its central location to the Jonesborough Library and the International Storytelling Center, immediate availability with no renovations needed, adequate parking and being handicapped accessible. The building offers a full bath, small kitchen and enclosed outside courtyard in the back.
Miller said the next step would be approaching Mayors Dan Eldridge and Kelly Wolfe for support. “I wanted to have it planned and agreed upon before the festival because I would like to talk to the storytellers about it,” she said, noting they would likely want to donate resources. “All we have been waiting for is a place.”
Commissioner Joe Grandy suggested outlining a budget, and Hurdt said he would work with Miller and bring something back to the board.