The Northwest Regional Library system has seemed like home to newest director Joan Sherif after nearly three decades of service through many changes.
“I had visited Elkin earlier since my sister had lived in the area and worked at NWRL before,” said Sherif, “in fact it was the NWRL director at that time who told me about a job opening in Gaston County where I was hired for my first job.”
That was as a young adult librarian, extension librarian, and reference librarian at the Gaston-Lincoln Regional Library in Gastonia before joining NWRL in 1989.
As the branch coordinator/technology coordinator for NWRL, Sherif had experience with all 13 branch libraries in the system, however not all at once.
“When I first started, there were three branch consultants so we divided the 13 branches among us, but as professional staff shrunk here because of reduced state funding, there was only one supervisor for all libraries,” said Sherif.
Technology coordinator, youth services coordinator and other positions have fallen victim to reduced funding.
As director of the Northwestern Regional Library, Sherif is responsible for maintaining locations in Alleghany, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.
“We basically cover a piece of northwestern North Carolina from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock along with the foothills,” said Sherif, who hopes to bring members of the communities together through the libraries.
“We need to continue to work together with our communities and community leaders to maintain healthy funding for libraries so they can grow and serve our communities,” said Sherif.
Libraries are a significant space in a community, according to Sherif.
“Over the years, the challenges that face public libraries have made me realize more and more their vital importance. They are the community’s living room.”
In addition to a place to meet and talk about books as well as a variety of classes and events, NWRL offers technology and help using it.
“We are excited about maintaining important traditional services as well as moving forward with new services and technology,” said Sherif.
“We want to see excellent services maintained including book collections and current technology with trained and dedicated staff and volunteers. We want to make sure that everyone has access to high speed Internet connections whether it is for school, employment, or personal enjoyment.
“We also offer job assistance for job seekers, free income tax assistance, and programs for all ages,” said Sherif.
She hopes to work on grants for additional funding to continue evolving programs and opportunities.
“There are great opportunities available, and I would like to see us work together to reach out even more to the community,” said Sherif, “for example, maker spaces are becoming an important part of public libraries.
“Libraries are transforming with the rest of society, and it is a very exciting time to be part of them.”
Sherif’s love for libraries started early.
“As a child I have great memories of going to our local library to check out books and being read to. I have vivid memories of some of my first picture books.”
Those first books lead to visits to the bookmobile and eventually to personal exploration of the stacks.
“In college, the library was a comfortable and inspiring place to study and do research,” said Sherif.
“I grew up with books and was taught from an early age that you can tell much about a community by its library.”
The library system is only part of what Sherif enjoys about Elkin and the surrounding communities.
“When I had the opportunity to move to Northwestern Regional, it was a great opportunity because of the work challenges as well as being able to live in one of the most beautiful parts of our state,” said Sherif.
“I visited Elkin for the first time right after I finished my master’s degree for a vacation. I loved the area, but little did I know that I would have the opportunity to live here.
“I love the outdoors, hiking, and the natural environment. I love our trails and parks. We live in such a picturesque area that I keep promising myself that I will do more photography,” said Sherif.
In addition to the natural beauty, Sherif enjoys the roots of the local music, although she is not a musician herself, and has volunteered at the Blue Ridge Music Center for several years.
Sherif also has discovered her own roots in the area.
“I have developed an interest in genealogy and have found that I have family connections in North Carolina back to the early 1700s, including an ancestor who was part of North Carolina’s Constitutional convention,” said Sherif.
Most libraries can offer assistance with genealogical research including finding other resources as well as records.
“I enjoy working with people and being part of connecting people to information, education, recreation and each other.
“Working as part of a library system is a very rewarding experience for so many reasons, including seeing the library as a very important part of any community and the impact that it can have on lives,” said Sherif.
“Libraries are particularly important to northwest North Carolina for so many reasons. They really are at the heart of the community,” said Sherif. “It is very rewarding to be part of the community and work with others to give back as much as possible.”
To find out more about what is available at the nearest Northwest Regional Library, go to www.nwrl.org.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.