Library Renovation Has Community Commitment
“As the one community institution that welcomes people at every age and stage of life, meeting their diverse needs and educational aspirations, the library symbolizes a community’s commitment to future generations. Local and state elected officials in Georgia continued from page
have long recognized this value by building and maintaining libraries in every county, and supporting them generously.” — Georgia State Librarian Julie Walker With this quote, Toombs County Library Board Chairman Jason Davis welcomed a group of library patrons gathered in early December 2020 at the Vidalia branch of the Ohoopee Regional Library System (ORLS) located on Jackson Street. The purpose of the event, kept small in attendance to comply with social distancing, was to share information about a renovation and expansion project of the Vidalia library.
Davis shared that the library means a lot to him, having grown up in Vidalia and using the resources for his education and enjoyment. Now that his young family also enjoys checking out books, he is pleased that “the renovation that we are about to undertake is going to assure that my children’s children can continue to benefit from this library, and that the next generation of people here in our community can continue to come here and learn and be served.”
The event was organized and hosted by the local chapter of the Friends of the Library. Davis showed appreciation to the host group, saying, “I realize that all Friends of the Library chapters between libraries are different, but I will tell you that we have a very active and engaged and supportive Friends of the Library here.” Marlene Tomlin serves as President of the local chapter.
Board members of the Toombs County Library who are appointed for three-year terms by the County Commissioners and the Cities of Lyons and Vidalia, were introduced by Davis at the December meeting. Those serving on the Board are Barry Dotson, Vice Chair, Mike Walton, Treasurer, Brian Bishop, Pat Dixon, Howard Holman, Cathy Benton, Carol Rice, Lisa Chesser, B.J. Davis, Rebekah Arnold, and Mary Moon. Holman is Chairperson of the Renovation Committee. Gary Campbell and Harry Moses serve on the ad-hoc Construction Committee.
Operating funds for the Vidalia library are provided locally by the City of Vidalia and Toombs County. The professional staff, which must have a master’s degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS), are paid by the state to support the function of the library. Funds from State Appropriations provide for books and technology. Special projects such as memorial books and programming are funded by donations. The community has always been supportive of the local library, and the project to expand the building and services has only added to that support. Additionally, much work has been done to date by those local supporters and by the Library Board in raising funds for the renovation. Director of the ORLS is Cameron Asbell. Matthew Stembridge serves as Assistant Director and IT & Technical Services, Jan Outler is the Vidalia Branch Manager and Stacey Wright is the Ladson & Toombs County Librarian.
The Vidalia-Toombs County Library building expansion will incorporate the Ladson Genealogical Library, currently located on Church Street. Built in 1967 and expanded in 1992, the much-needed renovations on the structure will reduce expenses in operating two locations, as well as update the technology that is vital to serving the public. “Technology will keep changing, so nothing is going to be built in a way that it is not fluid and can’t be adapted,” said Asbell. In the blueprint stage “we sat down and marked everywhere that I want power plugs and projectors and charging stations, etc,” said Asbell, whose MLIS includes an education track in technology. Technology is her first love, so that crucial part of the renovation is in good hands. Built into the basic function of a library is that they must evolve and endure. While some may think library usage is decreasing, librarians witness quite the opposite. New technology, additional programs and classes, and continued enjoyment of physical books keeps patrons of all ages and stages returning to use the tax-funded facilities.
“Libraries always adapt to change in ways that people don't readily see; otherwise, we would be clinging to our card catalogs. But libraries are often the earliest adopters of new technology in each community,” Asbell explained. “Libraries are unique and are the only taxfunded service where everyone can come in and use the place and there is no income requirement, no religious affiliation, nor expectation of payment. We see the poorest in the community using our Internet and coming in for free lunches during the summer when we partner to feed children. Wealthy people come to get books because no one who is a voracious reader wants to pay that much for books. I always say we serve you from the day you are born to the day you die and we have books, programs and materials for every step along the way.”
Libraries provide histories of places and families for present and future generations. Vidalia’s library system is fortunate to house the Ladson Library, the only public library in Georgia dedicated exclusively to history and genealogy. Its collection is a gem for patrons researching primary sources for their family history.
John Ladson, son of the collection’s creator, the late John E. “Jack” Ladson, Jr., said, “I think there will always be a need for researching original sources, and the Ladson Library has materials not found anywhere else. The internet has definitely widened the public interest in genealogy, which in itself should stimulate research of original sources.”
The Ladson Library was housed in the old City Hall by the ORLS since the late 1980s. This space was in an upstairs area in town. When the collection became the sole property of the system upon Ladson’s death in 1999, the Ladson family donated the current location in back of the old Belk building to the City of Vidalia for renovation and more accessible housing for the collection. The history of the Ladson collection is also a gem. It has been chronicled before and will be revisited again as the renovation reporting moves forward. Like his father, Jack, John Ladson is an avid supporter of community and of libraries. He is proud to join the renovation efforts and the relocation of the Ladson Collection into a new climate-controlled space with updated technology. He said, “The great advantage of moving the Ladson Library, and combining it with the public library, has always been obvious. That option has not been available until now. I am certainly in favor of that happening. The efficiencies and cost savings will be beneficial for all concerned.”
Senator Blake Tillery has also long been an advocate for public libraries and expresses his support for the renovation of the Vidalia branch. Tillery said, “This building and its staff have been here across four decades for me” where he watched movies, learned how to do research papers, and studied to take the law school admissions test using free and reliable internet services provided by the library.
“Partially due to the wear and tear of me and others, she’s in need of a facelift again. Our community would miss a huge opportunity if we did not use the same renovation time to help this library highlight one of our community's best assets, the Ladson, while also making improvements to control the system’s fixed and operating costs for decades to come. I’m proud to be a supporter of this remodel. I’m proud of the effort that has gone into not just providing a facelift, but to recreate this facility to be an information center and community resource. The State, County and City have partnered to bring this dream closer to reality and I’m proud to join the commitment to invest in this community as well.”
Fundraising for the library renovation and expansion is ongoing and is going well to date for the 3-year project timeline. The master plan can be viewed at the library at 610 Jackson Street. In addition to the relocation of the Ladson collection to the expanded building, the renovation will include ADA compliant facilities, multiple study rooms, a teaching kitchen, a quiet adult reading area, an open flow children’s area and programming, a teen space, an energy efficient HVAC system, outdoor seating areas and new technology throughout the building. Updates in The Advance on the renovation project will be ongoing as well. View the library branch locations and hours, programming and services at https:// ohoopeelibra r y. org/ locations/ vidalia- toombs- countylibrary/. Like and visit The Ohoopee Regional Library System and the Ladson Genealogical Library Facebook pages. Become a patron of the libraries serving the communities in Jeff Davis, Toombs, Tattnall and Montgomery Counties to experience new ideas and wonderful stories, for quality children’s programming, to get to know your family’s history, to use free internet and much more.
“Libraries are unique and are the only tax-funded service where everyone can come in and use the place and there is no income requirement, no religious affiliation, nor expectation of payment…I always say we serve you from the day you are born to the day you die and we have books, programs and materials for every step along the way.”
– Carmen Asbell, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System