By Jeff Keeling
Polly Peterson has been instrumental in the Johnson City Public Library’s success and growth for a quarter century. April 29, library leaders officially named a prominent space near the library’s the Polly Peterson Reading Room, leaving the usually loquacious lawyer at a temporary loss for words.
During a Chamber of Commerce event that also saw the donation of $20,000 from the Junior League of Johnson City, Library Director Bob Swanay updated dozens of guests on the JCPL’s growth and services before turning to Peterson.
Swanay related Peterson’s leadership in establishing the library’s charter in 1989. He referenced her major role, when she was president of the Library Board, in securing the city commission’s commitment for the library’s current facility.
“She persevered and did whatever it took to get this new library. That’s real dedication.”
Peterson did that, Swanay said, “because she believes in the power of reading, she believes in literacy, she believes that the mark of a strong community is a strong library.”
“To this day, Polly continues to be one of the best friends the library has.”
Peterson’s successor as Library Board President, John Taylor, echoed Swanay.
“It’s my privilege to follow Polly,” current Library Board President John Taylor said.
“Polly’s been not just instrumental, but this library wouldn’t be here but for her, and I think it’s altogether appropriate that today … we now have the honor of having the Polly Peterson Reading Room.”
Also Tuesday, Junior League members presented a $20,000 check to the library for use in upgrading a small amphitheater space just outside the children’s section.
“Last year we were able to completely revamp and overhaul the storytime room with all new audio-visual equipment … and it was just a rousing success,” Swanay said of the most recent project completed thanks to a strong partnership with the Junior League.
The Junior League’s Tania McInturff said the club’s focus on literacy has made its partnership with the library “fabulous.”
“We’ve had a wonderful time working with Bob and Kathy (Griffith) and particularly Betty (children’s librarian Betty Cobb).”
“It’s really enabled us to focus on the programs in the room and less setup time, and it’s part of an overall strategy we’ve had with the Junior League to reimagine new services and what we can do there.”
The new project, Swanay said, will transform what he called an underutilized space to expand childrens’ services and have a nice outside environment that’s safe and instructive for kids.
Peterson reflective, optimistic about library’s future
A bit later, sitting in the reading room, a pleasant space full of natural light from large windows just to the right upon entry to the library, Peterson discussed both the honor and the state of the library.
“I was thoroughly surprised, and just thought it was one of the nicest things that – see, they left me speechless, and for a lawyer this is a strange thing.”
Peterson lauded the library with which she has such a long association, for its ability to remain a strong community asset in an era of tight budgets.
“This library is one of the best libraries in the state of Tennessee, physically and just through its structure,” Peterson said. “We have offered continually new services as they come out. People can check out Kindles, download books to their own Kindles, they can get free music.
“We try and stay on that cutting edge so that we are involved with the community and we can keep the community involved down here and make this a meeting place for Johnson City, where you can come and find what you need.”
Looking back to the late 1990s, Peterson said city leaders did right by the library as they committed funds to its current quarters.
“It took a lot of time and energy to get this through the City Commission,” Peterson said. “Most of the commissioners were incredibly supportive, and they understood we needed to build to the need of the community and build a facility that could expand.”
The building’s architect drew up expansion plans. “We know how we can make the library bigger and more functional through the next century.”
Looking out the window of the Polly Peterson reading room, toward several acres soon to be vacated by U-Haul and replaced with a public green space along King Creek, its namesake said she believes that pending change will further enhance JCPL.
“Once we get the water project done there’s going to be some nice walking trails. I think that people are just going to flock down here and it will become more of a gathering place than it is right now.”