Our public library of the year is a four-branch system that has found ways to build upon its already award-winning portfolio of services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Cherokee Regional Library System has previously been recognized by the Institute of Museum and Library Services with a national grant in 2018 for their Next Chapter program, which combats a high recidivism rate through a life skills enrichment program at the county jail. Their Dade County branch was a runner up for Library Journal’s 2016 Small Library in America award for its efforts to test new services, like lending Chromeboxes, bringing programming and WiFi into the community park, and hosting PrimeTime Family, which includes weekly reading activities at the library for at-risk, low-income families.
During COVID-19, the library system has doubled its daily open hours so more people could safely utilize the library, including people who travel from other communities because their home libraries remained closed.
Lecia Eubanks, library director
Cherokee Regional Library System Director Lecia Eubanks is proud of the can-do attitude of library staff.
“We do not easily say the word ‘no’ – we find ways to say yes,” she said. “In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the importance of the library to our community. We understood the library to be instrumental in their ability to adapt to COVID-19. We crafted a plan to stay open safely, with protocols in place to protect the staff and our users. Every staff member supported the decision, and we are so very proud of them for their hearts of service and love for their community.”
Located in northwest Georgia, Cherokee Regional’s approximately 30 staff members serve a population of around 86,000 in Dade and Walker counties. Cherokee Regional was the second regional library system formed in Georgia, back in 1944.
The library developed the Time with Teacher tutor program to help students struggling with virtual learning. They recruited 23 certified teachers, gave them space in their branches, advertised in local school systems, and used a booking software system to do the rest. The program averages 200 free tutor sessions per month, and parents are speaking of seeing immediate improvement in test scores and levels of confidence in their students. This program has helped some of the community’s most financially disadvantaged families.
Another recent project was providing digital library cards to Walker County Middle School students and waiving student fines for those who already had a card to ensure immediate access to the library. The library also provides a safe, quiet place for patrons to utilize high-speed internet inside and outside the building.
Patrons credit the library for the many ways it enables them to improve their lives:
A child uses his digital library card to borrow books from the library.
“Being able to use the computer lab to attend an online university has given me the opportunity to improve my living situation and the lives and future of my children,” said Kim Robinson.
An associate professor at nearby Dalton State College lacked adequate bandwidth with her internet access at home, and so she utilized the library to teach her online classes.
For entrepreneurs and small business owners, the library is one of the few places for easy, low-cost access to essential services like printing, scanning, faxing, and copying, as well as meeting space for clients. Jennifer Wojcik used the Dade County library scanner to submit and receive a homeschooling grant. Colby Curry used the library to print out a resume for a job application.
“It’s important to us that we not only provide basic library service but that we look around our community and stand in the gap in as many areas as we can,” said Eubanks. “We continue to be the place in our community for high-speed Internet access, communal meeting spaces, high quality family programming, preservation of our local history and a safe place to just hang out.”