Long Time Ashville Free Library Director To Retire
The Butler Did It
ASHVILLE — Tabetha Butler, Ashville Free Library director, is retiring after 24 years.
Butler began in July 1998 as the director of the library, after a background in retail at her own store, Woodshed, in Ashville, and after time spent as a volunteer at the library. Butler’s last day is Aug 13. A reception for Butler will be held on Aug. 20 at the library from 3 to 5 p.m., put on by the library’s board of trustees. Everyone is welcome to come honor Butler’s 24 years of service and share memories and well wishes. Refreshments will be available as well.
“I was encouraged by the director at the time to apply when the position came open,” Butler said. “We joked that I was given the job because of my close proximity to the library. I live two doors down. I also did not have a degree in library science when I started, but our library is small enough that I didn’t need it. I fit right in and we began to check things off that needed done.”
The Ashville Free Library’s building is an 1872 Grange Hall. When Butler began at the library it had not had any maintenance done in many years.
“A lot of infrastructure things needed addressing,” Butler said. “I have a board with me here at the library, and they are irreplaceable. We have a very small budget. In fact, we say the only thing smaller than the building is our budget. So, I’ve had to do a great deal of grant writing in my time here.”
Butler said she has been fortunate in that only one or two of the grants she has written over the years have not been received and that was usually because of the amount of people also applying for the same grant.
“With those grants we systematically went through and changed the whole library,” Butler said.
Changes included a total remodeling of the library and the installation of air conditioning. The last thing that was fixed was the exterior of the building, something that Butler said was keeping people away from the library before.
“There’s the old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” Butler said. “Well, a lot of people did that with our library because of how bad the outside of the building was. Once we fixed that we were finally able to get more people coming through the door. They had no idea what we had in here.”
Part of the infrastructure changes that Butler helped to organize was the children’s department.
“We saw some other trends at other libraries, the main one being to make the library look more like a bookstore,” Butler said. “So, if a child comes in they’re not going to say they’re looking for a book by a certain author, they’re going to ask for a book on trucks. And now we can show them the section of where all the truck books are located. It lets them browse themselves and it’s easier for them to find things and gives them the confidence to do so.”
Another significant part of the children’s department in the library is the play area.
“Children can come here and play,” Butler said. “Children don’t get to play as much these days. In schools it is all about learning and tests. Imagination is not as encouraged. Well, here they can come and don’t realize that as they are playing they are also learning. That has to be my proudest moment.”
The library’s children department was made in collaboration with the Panama Boy Scouts, who created things for the children such as a farmer’s market and helped to build bookcases.
“The library is not done on its own,” Butler said. “We are so small and have a small budget that we have to be creative to get some of the things that we want.”
Butler has had many favorite moments over the years.
“One of my favorites is the look on a child’s face when they discover a book or genre that they love and they keep coming back and checking out the same book,” Butler said. “But another favorite has to be the summer reading program, which we started during COVID.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic the library was shut down and was not allowed to have people in the building. Butler had a curbside pickup system going, but then also began the summer reading in a bag program.
“We’d fill the bag with books and other activities that we normally do during our summer reading program,” Butler said.
Approximately 36 kids were involved in the program in the first year. Parents encouraged the library to do the program again and the second year resulted in 74 children starting and 68 finishing. There are currently 94 children signed up for the program this summer.
“It’s different from what other libraries are doing,” Butler said. “But, not all of these kids come from Ashville. I’ve had some sign up that are as far away as Sinclairville. It’s amazing how many minutes these kids will read.”
All of these child focused programs were allowed to happen when the library gained access to the second floor. With another grant to install an elevator and collaboration with Cummins for the physical labor and the addition of bookcases from the Lakewood Memorial Library the second floor of the library was able to be made into a private area for adults, and the first floor was allowed to be dedicated to children.
Other things over the years that Butler has enjoyed is watching the homeschoolers come in and grow and then later come back with their own children, along with the addition of Libby the Library Cat.
“Part of the infrastructure that needed changing was that at the beginning there were holes and a lot of mice in the walls,” Butler said. “I couldn’t get traps or anything because of the children so I was advised to find a cat. Well, we found a cat.”
Libby is 18 years old now, and one of the library’s biggest attractions.
“The children love her,” Butler said. “She’s a wonderful addition. I don’t think I’ve seen a mouse here for 12 years. We have people that come back to the area for the summer and they make sure to stop in and see Libby.”
Butler said though she is retiring to be able to spend more time with her grandchildren in North Carolina, she is not leaving because she does not want to be at the library anymore.
“I will miss this library and my patrons more than you can imagine,” Butler said. “I will always remember the wonderful conversations and experiences we’ve had at this library. And I would like to thank my volunteers. This library is run almost completely by volunteers. Without them we would not be able to be open. They have made my life so much easier, and I hope to run into them again sometime.”