Love for stories calls Melisa Pressley to the Black Mountain Library

Shelly Frome
Special to Black Mountain News
Melisa Pressley, branch manager of the Black Mountain Public Library, followed her love for stories to a career as a librarian, which led her to the Swannanoa Valley.

Librarian Melisa Pressley sees herself as “a local Buncombe County girl through and through.”

Yet, in a sense, she has always been a whimsical explorer.    

“As it happens, my mother didn’t have time to read, nor do I recall sitting on her lap and being read to.," said Pressley, who took over the branch manager position at Black Mountain Public Library in May of 2017, “But back in Skyland, the First Baptist Church had a small library and I had a board-book that prompted me to start reading on my own. I just thought it was really neat.”

She later moved east with her mother and discovered the West Asheville branch of the Buncombe County Library System, where she found a fun place to go after school and fulfill a newfound fascination with castles.

“I would run downstairs to the children’s room, check out a few books and run back to the car because mom had to get home," she said. "I loved how gory castles were. I liked the siege more than anything--the moats, the drawbridge and pouring hot oil on top of invaders. But mostly the construction of these medieval fortresses really drew me in.”

Her current branch was recently given a grant enabling her to add castle furniture to the children’s section.  

But back in high school, her notions evolved to visions of becoming a poet.

“I had a very encouraging literature teacher, he was the first adult who told me my poems were good," Pressley said. "Moreover, I come from a long line of storytellers on my father’s side. My grandfather and great-grandfather were preachers, extolling those age-old lessons we need to take to heart. My dad, himself, was a country music singer-songwriter who made his way to Nashville. The Bible stories plus Jimmy Rogers story-songs dad would pick out on the guitar had an influence on my teenage angsty poetry and sense of longing for adulthood and love.”

Later on, coming to terms with the impracticality of being a poet but still honoring her questing spirit, she studied history at UNC-Asheville. There she delved in the Reconstruction era and industrialization of the South, with a concentration on the communities created around the textile mills.

At this point, she had thoughts of becoming a researcher and consultant at some historic site.

“I was especially taken with the 1929 textile strike in Marion,” she said. “So many more people got injured and killed during that incident than the one in Charlotte. So I made trips down there for research. Needless to say, it was more relevant than my castle days. And I had family that actually worked at the Beacon blanket factory right around here in Swannanoa.”

Then, coming full circle, she came across the construction of a public branch library in Candler and immediately reckoned it would be both a fun and accessible place to work. She obtained a part time job, watched the librarians at work and soon discovered a vocation that also suited her imaginative sensibility. She thought of the worlds she herself could explore one day with people of all ages and the opportunity to foster story-time and library tours for school children.

As a result, she eventually became a children’s librarian commuting to Candler for a decade. But to realize her ultimate dream, took the next Buncombe Country step by managing a branch. Not just any branch, however, but the special one here in Black Mountain.

“I felt embraced by the mountains,” she said. “I always loved the idea of living in a small town with a central downtown and to be able to easily walk around from my house and to the library. I also always wanted to live in the town that I served. All told, I feel really rooted here with a dream of making this library a welcoming community space like a giant hug, creating programs for adults and so on.”  

And so Melisa Pressley carries on, fulfilling her heart’s desire, envisioning a hometown library’s never-ending, full potential.