Belk Library offers a variety resources, including books, newspapers, movies, Internet access and printers. While students typically view the library as an academic space, other users come in to check their e-mail, look at pictures of their grandchildren or play a few rounds of solitaire; the “regulars” are often doing more significant things, said Kate Hickey, dean and university librarian. Members of the Elon community enjoy the amenities Belk Library provides.

To one woman from Gibsonville who wishes to remain anonymous, Belk is more than just a room with computers. It’s also a place of comfort, a place of escape.

“I love this library,” she said. “It’s a place of solace for me. It’s a heated, nice place to be. When I get home, I have to heat by wood stove. I don’t want to leave at closing sometimes. I try to keep a low profile anyway, my sense of being right now.”

Community members visit the library multiple days a week for an assortment of different reasons, according to Hickey.

“Some of them are writing books, some of them are taking online computer maintenance courses and a lot of people come in to apply for jobs, because many places nowadays only accept online applications,” Hickey said.

While some use the computers because they simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of maintaining their own, many of the area residents and visitors who use the computers and Internet would not otherwise have access to these resources.

“I think we provide a really important service in providing computers to people who could not afford them in their homes,” Hickey said. “If you just try to imagine living in today’s world and either not having the money or not having the expertise to maintain a computer, it’s a real handicap in today’s society. So we are happy to provide that service.”

And many are happy to accept it. The woman from Gibsonville comes to the library three or four times a week. For this individual, Belk provides her with her only access to a computer and Internet.

“I don’t have computer access at my home,” she said. “(The library) is my connection. I don’t have a television, so I catch up on my news and e-mail and all that stuff here. And I’m addicted to a game I play while I listen to music.”

She doesn’t mind coming onto a college campus to have access to a library. In fact, she said she prefers it.

“I kind of like being part of the campus,” she said. “I’m kind of a student at heart anyways, so I always liked that academic environment. It’s nice to connect with the younger generation every once in a while. We all like to think of ourselves as perpetual students, I guess.”

But many members of the community come to Elon not for the campus atmosphere, but for lack of a public library in western Alamance County. The county had approved a new library to be built in Elon, but because of the economic recession, the project has not moved forward, according to Hickey.

“The county government and the Alamance County regional library system recognizes that we desperately need a public library on this side, which is the fastest growing part of Alamance County,” Hickey said. “But it hasn’t happened.”

Charrity Petty and Jessica Glover, friends from high school that currently attend college online, come to Belk to do work for their college classes, said they sometimes feel guilty using the university computers, and often wish there was a convenient public library they could do work in instead.

“I feel like especially when it’s exam time, I don’t want to be taking up a computer if someone else needs it,” Petty said. “I just need to type up a paper, and other people need to study.”

Despite this, both find the process of gaining access to the library simple and enjoy the convenience of being able to print documents. Coming to the library also helps motivate them to complete their work.

“When you do work side by side, it helps,” Petty said.

Like Petty and Glover, most community members are sensitive to the fact that they are guests on Elon’s campus and understand that during exam times the library often closes to visitors earlier in the day.

[quote] If you just try to imagine living in today’s world and either not having the money or not having the expertise to maintain a computer, it’s a real handicap in today’s society. So we are happy to provide that service. [/quote]

“We’ve had virtually no pushback from the community about having to leave at five on Fridays or 'oh my gosh, it’s midterms again,'” Hickey said. “They’ve been really understanding that using the library is a privilege. We don’t have to do this by law.”

Maintaining this balance between serving Elon students and serving the community members is one of the library’s primary goals, Hickey said.

“We hope we’ve balanced being a good citizen of the county with recognizing that we are a private institution and that our students and faculty have first dibs on things,” she said. “It doesn’t always work perfectly, but Elon has an important role to serve in its community. It feels like it serves a good purpose.”

Edit: Originally, Walden University was misspelled in a photo caption.