The former coal-mining town of Helen used to be a place bustling with activity, complete with a boarding house, company store, clubhouse and even a movie theater.
Although those store fronts are no longer open, one local resident is working to make sure that the sense of community those places instilled isn’t lost as well.
This was the intent behind the Helen Living Library, which opened in January and came from the imagination of Amanda Moore.
“Helen Living Library is meant to be a community center,” Moore said. “So we offer books, but we also have a closet full of puzzles, an art room where people can come and do projects there or play board games. We have a shelf full of board games. Our goal is to make it a living community center. A place where people could come and share life together.”
Moore said the idea of opening a library in Helen, where she’s lived with her husband and four children the past 14 years, came from an old radio drama her eldest daughter had listened to, called “Adventures in Odyssey.”
Moore said that much of what happens in the radio drama is centered on a place called Whit’s End, which includes an ice cream shop, train room, imagination station and more. As the stories progress in the radio drama, Moore said Whit’s End becomes somewhat of a community center.
“That was inspiring to me,” she said. “To just have a place where community gathered, for one thing, and then shared resources, of course, and shared experiences.”
Although she was never quite sure how to make this vision a reality, Moore said she had often joked with her husband that she might open a library one day, having amassed close to 1,000 books over the years from home-schooling her children.
“After we had home-schooled for years, we were keeping a lot of our books, which to me became like treasures, even though I wasn’t a reader as a kid. I didn’t love books growing up,” she said.
“But these books were in the attic, and I thought, ‘I want a place where I can put them out and they’re accessible.’ And then I had the thought, too, well why not do that in a place where the community could come in.”
Moore said she initially toyed around with the idea of opening up a library in her home but thought that it might take away from the community center she felt she was hoping to create.
Then in 2017 when the home next door became available, Moore said she saw that as a sign that it was time to bring her vision to life.
“After years of like almost jokingly nudging my husband and saying, ‘I’d like to have a library,’ this house came for sale in 2017 and we purchased it and started renovations, which took us a while,” she said. “We were slow because we’re not very handy and we just did what we could do.”
Moore said she also reached out to family members and friends for help, adding that much of what is in the Helen Living Library today, from the books to the furniture to even the crafting supplies, came from community donations.
“In fact, a friend of mine from high school did a book drive without me even realizing he was doing it,” she said. “And then he contacted me and I think he brought about 1,000 books down here.”
Moore said she’s still somewhat in disbelief of how everything came together. She said she also couldn’t be happier that the books that were once stuffed away in her attic are now out in the open where they belong and are able to be enjoyed.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “In a sense, it’s like I’m reliving the initial relationship that my own kids had with the books. And then I see kids come in and I get to recommend them. And honestly, it may sound a little weird, but I look at the books that have been checked out and I am excited to see that kids in the community are reading these books.”
Moore said the Helen Living Library operates much the same as any other public library but with an added personal touch. She added that all the services she offers at the library are completely free.
From the outside, the library looks like any other house on the block aside from the “Helen Living Library” sign painted on the front. Moore said the home was initially built in the 1920s and was built for foremen or bosses of the local coal company.
Inside the library, the first room on the bottom floor contains the majority of the books Moore has collected, which are organized by genre on a row of shelves.
Moore said she tried to think of a clever name to call this particular room in the library but instead settled on simply calling it “The Great Room.”
Connected to the Great Room is the West Virginia Room, which contains West Virginia themed books as well as books by West Virginia authors. This room also contains joke books and comic books as well as comics from the newspaper.
Next to the West Virginia Room is the kitchen, which Moore has stocked with cookbooks and health-related books. This room also has a closet full of puzzles and a large kitchen table.
The second floor of the house contains three themed rooms: an art room, a music room and a little tikes’ room which also contains picture books.
Located at 111 Silverdale Court in Helen, the Helen Living Library is open from 4 to 6 pm on Tuesday and from noon to 3 pm on Saturday.
Moore said she plans to add hours during the summer once school is out so that parents will have a place to bring their kids during the week.
Moore is also planning to host activities for kids, including crafts and games and possibly outdoor movie showings. Times and dates for these activities as well as any updates to opening hours will be posted to the library’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Helen-Living-Library-248137285859615.
Moore said they’re also on Instagram, @helenlivinglibrary.
Moore said she has myriad ideas and plans for what she’d like to do next at the library, but for now she hopes to get the word out and let people know what she has to offer.
“My primary focus is to serve the people who are closest to us,” Moore said. “I don’t really envision or imagine people driving 40 minutes to come to our library, though I’m not opposed to that if they wanted to. But I just would like to see the kids in this area, who don’t necessarily have a place to do art, or to take music lessons, or to just come and check out books, to come in and be a part of what we have here.”