Huy Nguyen is a regular at the Brunswick-Glynn County Public Library, where he studies or relaxes after class or his full-time job. He wants to own a business, but his biggest goal is to become a U.S. citizen. Helping him along the way is George Giannoumous, a retired immigration officer who meets with his immigrant clients at the library because it’s a safe, public yet private space that everyone knows and trusts.

“We give a place for people to set and achieve their goals,” said Marshes of Glynn Libraries Director Geri Mullis, which also includes the St. Simons Island Public Library. “From someone trying to obtain their U.S. citizenship to a kid who wants to be a senator.”

That kid is 16-year-old Thomas Hunter, whose positivity and work ethic shine through immediately. He impacts the lives of patrons through his volunteerism since age 12, teaching conversational Spanish and English classes, tutoring and assisting at book sales. “I’m the go-to guy for the credit card machine,” he said, “and I also carry boxes, because customers seem to buy a huge amount of books and then park as far away as possible!”

Thomas loves that the library has activities for anyone, even those without a library card. “The library is engaged and open to everyone in the community,” he said. “It draws people in for more.” The library is a hub of activity with patrons using the space in diverse ways, which the library seeks to cultivate through its strategic plan.

“We conducted surveys and met with the community and found out that what they wanted was more,” said Mullis. “More books, programs, open hours, meeting space – more, more, more. We were open to what people had to say even when it was hard to hear. That’s how we can meet people’s needs.”

While the community here has always valued its library, there was a need to focus outward. “People’s needs have changed, they are no longer coming to the library simply for information,” said Mullis. “Our strategic plan was a great chance to use data and show a new way forward. We are always listening and asking questions. For example, we found that to engage parents, you must make it easy by hitting exactly what they want and when. If you can get them here for storytime or crafts and equate happy memories for their child, they are hooked. You have a lifelong patron; now offer yoga or a cooking class.”

As a result of their efforts, attendance numbers have increased by 103 percent between FY2015-2017, as the number of programs offered also increased by 67 percent. The library utilizes volunteers and partners to meet demand and contracts with local professionals to conduct storytimes, computer classes and more.

The strategic planning process and statistics gathered enabled them to make a strong case for and obtain local and state funding needed to improve existing facilities to better serve the community.

They created a Facility Master Plan to show how to maximize the library space and add meeting rooms. Renovations will begin in August 2018, although some spaces, like the children’s room, already have been completed. With the reimagined space for children, they accommodated over 500 people at one summer reading program in 2017!

“Everything we do revolves around how to build a love of literature,” said Mullis. “We entice you to come in for fun, educational activities and then share a book to match.”

The result of all their efforts will be an improved space to help engaged community members achieve their goals, whatever they may be, for years to come.

“In my role, and through the library, we can help hardworking people overcome challenges to achieve their American Dream,” said George Giannoumous.

There are many good ways to create a strategic plan, and Georgia Public Library Service can help. Contact Assistant State Librarian Wendy Cornelisen at (404) 235-7122 for more information.