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Public libraries mark another year of gains, transitions

GPLS News, February 2017

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For Georgia’s public libraries, 2016 was a year of small gains, impressive leaps and continued transitions. “Our tracking numbers are moving in positive directions, confirming the ongoing need for public library services,” said State Librarian Julie Walker. “For the second consecutive year, our libraries have been able to restore some of the public service hours that were lost during the economic downturn that began in 2008.

“The total number of open hours rose to 831,537 this year,” she noted. “Although that 2 percent increase leaves the number of open hours well below prerecession levels, it is a very positive step. I commend those state and local government officials who are so keenly aware of the importance of libraries in our communities and who have demonstrated their commitment and willingness to begin restoring library funding to the best of their abilities.

We greatly appreciate their recognition that public libraries continue to play a vital role in workforce development and educational support for Georgians.” The number of public library facilities across the state grew by five, to 409 last year, as systems added, or replaced/consolidated antiquated buildings in favor of, new facilities capable of meeting the needs of their respective communities. At the close of the year’s legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly added, and Gov. Nathan Deal approved, a 25 cents per capita allocation for library materials — the first such specified apportionment in nearly a decade.

“We expect to see the impact of that materials money in the coming year,” Walker said. “The trends in this year’s statistical data confirm that, when library doors are open and funds are available to provide current materials and public computers with internet access, Georgians in every county will value and use those services.

“The demand for library services across our state has never faltered.”

Proof that Georgia libraries are popular places is evident in the number of people who visited them and who attended programs offered by them. Nearly 28 million people spent time at a Georgia public library in FY2016. More than 9.6 million more paid virtual visits via library websites. While the number of educational programs offered by libraries held steady at about 80,000, attendance increased by almost 5 percent to more than 2.4 million.

E-book loans are up a whopping 23 percent over the previous year, rising to almost 1.3 million circulations. “More people are discovering that libraries have the ebooks they want to read, and libraries are working to meet the demand,” said Wendy Cornelisen, assistant state librarian for library innovation and collaboration.

“The cost of e-books is higher than traditional print books, however, and it’s a complicated process to loan e-books, due to the limitations providers place on borrowing them,” she said. “GPLS is investigating ways to make it easier and more cost-effective for libraries to provide this service.”

Other downloadable circulation, such as movies, music and audiobooks, is also up by double digits — about 31 percent — this year, Cornelisen said, and GALILEO searches via public libraries increased by more than 15 percent. “This year’s statistics really show the value of these high-quality resources,” she said. “GALILEO now includes Mango Languages, which lets Georgians learn to speak different languages,

and Tumblebooks, an animated online story collection for our youngest readers.”

Emily Almond, GPLS’s director of information technology, points out that public libraries know how to

stretch the public’s dollars too. “Over the past few years, thanks to MRR funding,” she said, “53 of Georgia’s 63 public library systems have invested in cloud computers. Thanks in part to their lower cost, there are now more than 9,350 public-access computers available at the state’s public libraries — an increase of 29 percent in the last five years.”

Jessica Everingham, assistant state librarian for library development and support, is pleased to see the

number of state-certified librarians increasing from 577 to 617. “Librarianship is an interesting

profession, and the demand for it is growing,” she said. “Our state-certified librarians are skilled

information specialists with master’s degrees and continuing education training requirements. Even when most of us carry a computer in our pocket, Georgia’s librarians answered almost 8 million reference questions last year, and they are experts at fighting misinformation. Librarians teach Georgians the digital literacy skills they need to separate the credible from the counterfeit.”

More than two dozen libraries around the state now offer makerspaces — centers where people

can gather to create, network, share resources and learn using a variety of tools that might not otherwise be available or affordable to them. For those libraries not yet so equipped, GPLS now offers four Tech Loaner Kits that give library staff and often residents from across the state the chance to learn and test for themselves a wide variety of tools, including tablets, Chrome devices, wireless routers, security cameras, Makey Makey kits and more.

“The kits are incredibly popular,” Almond said. “More than half the library systems checked out at least

one kit last year, and our four kits were checked out for a total of 88 weeks during the fiscal year. We’ll be adding more kits in the coming year, including 3-D printing, virtual reality, and educational kits that tie into many of our partnership programs.”

Partnership programs, such as those GPLS enjoys with Zoo Atlanta, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites,

the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Braves, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Go Fish Education Center and the Michael C. Carlos Museum, have educated and entertained thousands of Georgia residents while saving more than $13 million in direct expenditures and providing hundreds of hours of free programming for public libraries.

According to Walker, if a family of four together borrows two books and two DVDs each month, attends

one program per quarter and annually takes advantage of the museum and attraction passes available at every public library in the state, that family would save more than $1,670 every year over the cost of buying those materials and tickets individually.

“And this doesn’t include the value of public-access internet, job skills training, homework help and the

dozens of other services that Georgia libraries routinely provide free of charge,” she said. “You can always depend on the public library to be one of the greatest benefits to every community.”