Checking out the public libraries opens the book on learning and imagination. 

I learned that as a child visiting the R.T. Jones Library in Canton. In those days the library was in a beautiful old two-story white house at the end of Main Street. I am not sure how old I was when my mother started taking me there, but it was one of the highlights of my childhood.

In those days there wasn’t a lot to do in Canton, especially in the summer when school was out. My parents didn’t have a lot of money to spend entertaining three children. So, for our whole family, the library became an integral part of our activities.

I loved to roam through the rooms of the library, searching for a perfect book to check out. Whether it was reading about Juliet Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts, or Dr. Doolittle and his fantasies, or Nancy Drew, I could escape everyday life into a flight of fancy.

In the winter, when our small house seemed so crowded, I would go into the unused living room and curl up in a corner near a heat register and read quietly away from the fray of everyday living. Without the public library I would have had little to read other than the small bookcase of choices in our home.

I would not have had the chances to learn that I had as a child without the benefit of the public libraries.

There were not always libraries in Canton. In the 1930s members of the Canton Woman’s Club established the first free lending library in some rent-free space behind a jewelry store next door to Canton Drug Co. on Main Street, with volunteers staffing the effort.

Within a few years the library had outgrown that space and Mrs. P.W. Jones purchased a building that at one time was the Presbyterian Church in Canton and the library moved there.

In 1947 that building was sold, and the city of Canton provided space about the Canton City Hall for the library.

At that time the city of Canton, Cherokee County government and the School Board each began $25 a month in funding for a staff member.

In 1956 the city, school board and county appointed the first board to oversee libraries in the county. The board included Mrs. P.W. Jones, Mrs. Jack Jones, Mrs. C.K. Cobb, Mrs. E.M. McCanless, Mrs. Odie Galt, Mrs. Nina Jones, L.L. Jones Jr., W.L. Blackwell, E.W. Owen and Bill Hasty, county school superintendent.

In 1957 the library was moved into the beautiful old house I remember, the McAfee home, which in 1968 was torn down to make way for a new modern library in the building that is now the county elections office.

In 1963 the Woodstock Library was formed with support from the Woodstock Junior Women’s Club and Mrs. Smith L. Johnston.

Those days are long ago, and remembered fondly, but while times have changed, the value of a public library has not.

These days we have public libraries in Ball Ground, Hickory Flat, Rose Creek and Waleska, as well as Canton and Woodstock.

I was happy to see in a recent report that in the months of July, August and September 122,084 visitors walked through the doors of our Cherokee libraries. They checked out a total of 187,819 printed books, an increase of 3 percent over last year.

During those same months, 10,053 people attended one of 419 programs offered by the local libraries.

While I have fond memories of my childhood visits to the libraries, and the excitement of the summer reading program, these days libraries offer a lot more.

At our libraries, patrons have access to free Wi-Fi and computers so those who do not have them at home can complete job applications, training courses and find out about government resources.

Public libraries are a resource for students and curriculum at all levels, from early childhood to college. Libraries impact local economy and workforce development, providing resources to build marketable job skills.

Those are just a few of the reasons to check out our libraries.

I don’t believe I would be the person I am today without our libraries. I learned there was a bigger world out there than just Canton, Georgia. I found a love of reading that has continued my whole life. I discovered philosophies and ideas about everything under the sun, which led me in many different directions, including my desire to write.

I know I am not alone in loving our public libraries and the opportunities they offer. All you have to do is check out the numbers of residents who visit the library, many of them each week, to have new windows on the world opened through reading.

Libraries have lent a lot to support our residents and communities over the years. Hopefully our community will continue to lend its support to our libraries.

Rebecca Johnston is a native of Cherokee County and a retired managing editor of the Cherokee Tribune. She serves on the Sequoyah Regional Library Board of Trustees.

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