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Inclusive planning enables Harris County Public Library to meet community needs

GPLS News, April 2018

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Inclusive planning enables Harris County Public Library to meet community needs
In many rural areas including Harris County, the library is the only place where residents can access the internet. The new library has a computer training lab, stand-alone PC stations and robust wireless connectivity for those bringing their own devices.

It was two weeks before the Harris County Public Library opened its new facility to the public, but you wouldn’t know so from the full parking lot and people walking through the front door on a recent Wednesday morning. As library staff shelved books and set up computers amid boxes, cleaning supplies and ladders, a patron came in to ask if he could check out the latest Dean Koontz book.

“People in this community love their library,” said Branch Manager Stephanie Green, as she handed the man a flier about the upcoming opening and promised that a librarian would find the requested book.

Adjacent to a community center, the new facility is a focal destination point in Hamilton, a rural town with around 1,100 residents located just north of Columbus, GA.

Features include a teen area - the high school is just down the road, makerspace with both traditional crafts and technology, quiet study room, self-service business center, children’s area that encourages exploration, dedicated Friends of the Library storefront and a space with a fireplace for patrons to lounge.

“This library and this land will feed the growth of quality public services in our county for many years to come,” said Bob Patterson, trustee on the Harris County Library Board.

Harris County Public Library outgrew its former space, where staff were forced to be creative about how to shelve books and were unable to provide a quality programs. They even had to regularly turn away children from summer reading events.

Now, at 15,000 square feet with multiple spaces for events and programming, the library can better serve its patrons.

“A good library reflects its community’s needs. We listen a lot to our patrons and implement their programming ideas whenever possible,” said Stephanie Green. “Many things we do here may not work elsewhere, because they wouldn’t meet the character or the need.”

How was the new facility funded?
Funds for the $5.226 million construction project included $2 million from a Capital Outlay grant through Georgia Public Library Service, $2 million from the special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) and $1.226 million in donated monies, including a $500,000 donation by a private foundation.

“The support and guidance we received from our local county commissioners, led by Board Chair Harry Lange, were key,” said Troup-Harris Library Director Keith Schuermann. “Just as critical was the support of our state legislative delegation, in particular Sen. Joshua McKoon, who believes in the importance of quality library services for the Harris County community.”

How does Georgia Public Library Service assist libraries with construction and renovation?
Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) Library Planning and Construction Director Nathan Rall serves as an adviser on location, design and more, as well as a liaison between libraries and state funding agencies. GPLS funds projects through two types of state grants: Capital Outlay, which is primarily for new construction and full renovations, and Major Repair and Renovation, which completes deferred maintenance such as roof repair.

“It is critical for libraries to be able to meet the needs of their community, and they can’t do so if they must turn patrons away for lack of space or if they aren’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Nathan Rall. “We aim to create spaces that are flexible to meet future needs as well. Libraries have the potential to be the center of every community, and we can empower them to do it.”