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General Assembly adds four library facilities and materials funding to FY2017 budget

GPLS News, March 2016

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General Assembly adds four library facilities and materials funding to FY2017 budget
"The 2016 session was not only successful for libraries in that we received this dedicated materials grant, but also for the input we received from legislators regarding the future of libraries," Coweta County Public Library director Jimmy Bass.

Georgia's General Assembly endorsed the importance of the state's public libraries in the wee hours of March 25 when it ended the 2016 session with a proposed budget of $23.7 billion for fiscal year 2017.

The appropriations bill retains all funds that were included in Gov. Nathan Deal's initial FY2017 spending plan $2 million for major repair and renovation (MRR) projects at public libraries, $2 million for computer and technology replacement and up to $670,421 for merit salary increases for state-reimbursed library and GPLS employees.

To that, the Legislature added $7.8 million in bond funds for four major library construction projects and, perhaps most significantly, a 25 cents per capita allocation for library materials, the first so specified apportionment in nearly a decade.

"The 2016 session was not only successful for libraries in that we received this dedicated materials grant, but also for the input we received from legislators regarding the future of libraries," said Jimmy Bass, director of the Coweta County Public Library and current president of the Georgia Council of Public Libraries. "Several committee chairs and members have commented that this budget is a good start and that we could see more money for materials in the future.

"I am encouraged by their appreciation of what libraries are doing for Georgia residents and by their knowledge of how we are staying relevant and growing library services. I greatly appreciate the efforts of our state librarian, Julie Walker, and our legislative liaison, Steve Neff, for the many hours they spent connecting and communicating with our legislators. All Georgians will share in this success."

"This year has demonstrated the value of library supporters throughout Georgia coming together and speaking with one unified voice in articulating our libraries' needs," Walker said. "We were extremely fortunate this year to have hundreds of library advocates and trustees who took the time to write, call and visit their delegations to relate stories about the importance of libraries to families, students, business people and virtually everyone in their communities.

"It's clear that we also have some wonderful library supporters in both houses of the Legislature who strongly believe in the value of having excellent public libraries across the state. We are also grateful to have tremendous supporters of reading and literacy in Gov. and Mrs. Deal."

The governor's recommendation of funds for MRR and computer replacement will address critical needs in every part of the state, Walker said. "The technology money is especially important this year, because we have a unique opportunity to apply for federal E-Rate funds for essential technical infrastructure for anchor institutions, which include public libraries.

"According to the Federal Communications Commission formula, if Georgia can secure funding of $2,137,898, the state will be guaranteed federal funds totaling $11,877,213. Computer replacement funding for public libraries in the governor's request would effectively provide these matching funds, so we are extremely grateful to the governor for including them. This combined $14 million will ensure the continued availability of equipment for Georgians who rely on public libraries for their technological needs to pursue educational resources, apply for jobs and develop and operate small businesses."

In turn, the General Assembly's allocation of materials funding will help address the one lingering result of the recent economic downturn that began in 2008 the lack of state funding for library materials.

"With little materials money to spend, libraries have seen their heavily used children's books become worn and tattered," Walker explained. "Their nonfiction books, especially in the important STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines are becoming outdated, and they are falling far behind in meeting the demand for new best-sellers. In addition, demand for electronic books and downloadable audiobooks is increasing the pressure on libraries to spread their already-thin materials budgets further and further.

"So this year, library directors throughout the state agreed that materials funding would be a top priority in their advocacy efforts."

Library leaders and patrons were met with strong support in the House of Representatives, including that of Rep. Ed Rynders (R-Leesburg), Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) and Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs). Colleagues in the Senate among them Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) quickly added their endorsement. The result was a materials grant of $2,668,214 (25cents per capita) to address these critical needs.

"And, of course, library supporters in Carroll, Dougherty, Lowndes and Oconee counties are thrilled with the General Assembly's additional allocations for their much-needed facilities," Walker said.

The capital grants include:

South Georgia Regional Library System (SGRL) will replace its current landlocked and overcrowded Valdosta-Lowndes County Library by renovating a recently purchased 35,000-square-foot building that is capable of supporting modern technology. The new location, which is more centrally located in the community, will also house the SGRL regional office. The energy-efficient facility will include more space for meeting rooms, a significantly larger parking area and exterior space that will be conducive to outdoor programs.

"The new library will be a hub of education, literacy, technology and community engagement," said SGRL Director Miguel Vicente, "and we would like to recognize those who supported our efforts to obtain these funds the South Georgia Regional Library board and its chairman, Barry Barr; the SGRL Friends of the Library; Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta); Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta); Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland); former Sen. Tim Golden; and Rusty Griffin Jr. of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia."

Built in 1967, the Neva Lomason Memorial Library has struggled for years to keep up with the area's huge population growth and to become technologically viable and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The facility's proposed expansion will begin with the relocation to an off-site location of the administrative offices for the West Georgia Regional Library (WGRL) system. This will open roughly 10,000 square feet of additional space for the provision of patron services. According to WGRL Director Roni Tewksbury, the children's department will nearly double in size, and study rooms, a technology lab and an amphitheater for hosting a variety of programs will be added.

DCPL's Northwest Library is housed within a converted furniture store, which currently includes an open, noninsulated warehouse. This 11,000-square-foot area will be built out and finished to include meeting and conference rooms, a more advanced tech center, study rooms and a genealogical department and history room. It will also contain expanded year-round space for children's programming to relieve the consistent overcrowding that has resulted in potential attendees being turned away from numerous events, said Pauline Abidde, system director.

The current 3,700-square-foot Bogart Branch Library was designed and built with future expansion in mind, according to ARLS Director Valerie Bell. As the population of northwestern Oconee County and the services and programming provided by the library have grown, the need for more space has become critical.

In addition to more than doubling the library's size, the proposed expansion project will upgrade all utilities and add a new roof, creating a highly energy-efficient facility with a dedicated children's area and a flexible technology center.

Each of the four capital grant projects, as well as the MRR grants, requires matching local funds to complete.

The revised FY2017 budget now awaits the governor's approval and signature on or before May 3.