More than 300,000 Georgians joined the ranks of the 4.2 million library cardholders in the state last year, discovering the value that having a library card offers. “Libraries are delighted to welcome these new cardholders and eager to showcase all of the ways the library can save them money, enhance their educational pursuits, and support the joy of reading,” said State Librarian Julie Walker.

“The public library is one of the few places in the community where you don’t have to pay an entrance fee or buy a cup of coffee to use the space. You just have to walk in the door while the library is open to use the library’s computers, or your own device on the library’s wi-fi, read the paper, or browse the book shelves.”

And Georgians have more chances to do just that, as libraries across the state were able to keep their doors open for additional hours in 2017.

“Georgia’s public libraries continue to restore public service hours that were lost during the economic downturn that began in 2008. This is the third year in a row that we’ve seen an increase, thanks in large part to efforts by county and municipal funding agencies to restore library funding,” said Walker.

The Henry County Library System was one such beneficiary. “Thanks to the support of the Henry County Board of Commissioners, all five of our libraries were able to re-open on Fridays in 2017. Our Friday programs, from storytime for babies and visits from senior centers to computer tutoring, have proven extremely popular,” stated interim director Kathy Pillatzki.

The Georgia General Assembly specifically allocated funds for library materials –at a rate of 25 cents per capita–in fiscal year 2017, after materials funding had been unavailable in recent years. “The Georgia Council of Public Libraries, a statewide advocacy group made up of library leaders, had specifically requested this funding,” Walker said. “This level of support for public libraries helps keep library materials up-to-date and allows libraries to meet the growing demand for both traditional and digital library materials.”

“The impact of materials money is clear. Libraries were able to expand their downloadable collections, including e-books, audiobooks, movies, and music services, by around eight percent. And in turn, more patrons enjoyed these free materials, by a whopping 38 percent increase over last year. This shows that libraries are providing services very much in demand across the state,” said Wendy Cornelisen, assistant state librarian for library innovation and collaboration.

Georgia’s public libraries are more popular than ever, with more than 28 million in-person visits in 2017. One big reason Georgians visit their local library: free wi-fi and public access computers.

“Public libraries continue to be the best point of online access for those people without Internet connections at home, school, or work,” said Walker. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of individuals used public-access computers at libraries across the state, totalling more than 12 million sessions, with another 4.8 million wireless connections. “I’m proud to say that every public library in Georgia has high-speed internet access available to the public. This access is an essential component in workforce development in the digital age, and allows all Georgians, regardless of income, to participate in the online world.”

The newest addition to GALILEO, Georgia’s online library for subscription-only information that isn’t available through free search engines, is Gale’s Legal Forms, which is for anyone looking for basic fill-in-the-blank legal forms. “It’s possible to avoid legal disputes and misunderstandings when agreements are made in writing,” commented Cornelisen. “Our smaller libraries have seen the most use in this resource; Conyers-Rockdale Library has double the use of larger systems.”

As libraries evolve their services to meet the needs of Georgia’s residents, they are also taking the library beyond the traditional four walls of the building.

Don Giamanconi, youth services specialist at the Gwinnett County Library, defines library outreach as “an extension of our resources and of our influence into the community. We’ve really been able to continue expanding our footprint in our communities by finding creative ways to leverage our staff and resources. This effort has led to innovative programs like English Talk & Learn, where English learners are paired with librarians who speak the patron’s native language and are encouraged to make regular visits to their local branch for classes.”

The Ocmulgee Regional Library System expanded their reach into the public schools of Bleckley, Dodge, Pulaski, Telfair, Wheeler, and Wilcox counties with a library-provided technology kit. Each kit includes 3D printer, laptop, scanner, 3D pens, Raspberry Pi, how to books, and DVDs to support science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) curriculum.

“The kits have expanded the STEAM curriculum and given our students a way to embrace technology that otherwise would not have been available,” said Anne Bowen, director of the Ocmulgee Regional Library System.

This melding of education, entertainment, and saving families money is a familiar theme in Georgia’s public libraries. Through the thirteen GPLS-sponsored partnership programs—which include Zoo Atlanta, the Atlanta Hawks, and Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites—thousands of Georgians were educated and entertained, and public libraries received hundreds of hours of free programming in fiscal year 2017.

In fact, the year saw the launch of four new partnership programs with: the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, the Atlanta Gladiators East Coast Hockey League team, Second Wind Dreams, and the Macon Mayhem Southern Professional Hockey League team. The Carlos’ library pass loan program had an incredible first full year with over 3,000 circulations of the pass, which allows admission for up to six people to visit the museum. And making summer reading that much more interesting, the Gladiator’s “Hat Trick for Reading Challenge” had over 1,300 children register to earn free tickets to select Gladiator’s games, and 22 libraries were visited by the team’s mascot, Maximus.

“Libraries are unique places that bridge the gap between digital and physical, local and global. They serve Georgians across generational lines and embrace the future while also keeping our history and traditions alive. There’s something for everyone at the library,” said Walker.