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The accessibility of the services the public library in Toombs County provides will be expanded when the renovated building at 610 Jackson Street is christened with the name, “The Dr. Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library.” In June, the Spiveys generously donated $250,000 for the naming of the building simply because they wanted to give back to the community that has blessed them. This accelerated timeline for the project is the result of the passion and perseverance, and the combined fundraising efforts of the ORLS Executive Director, Staff, Toombs Library Board of Trustees, State lawmakers, and community leaders who believe in the vital relationship between public libraries and the literacy of communities where the libraries exist. When completed, the Vidalia library, which will include bringing the Ladson Genealogical Library under its roof, will provide a 21st Century Library capable of serving a county population of 27,000, plus surrounding counties, well into the future.

According to the request for proposal for construction services compiled by ORLS Director Cameron Asbell, “The Vidalia – Toombs Library (VTL) addition/ renovation will be constructed with funds from State of Georgia Capital Outlay funds with matching funds coming from the City of Vidalia, The Toombs County Board of Commissioners and local donations from community stakeholders.” The project has an existing budget of $3,200,000 for all costs, from consultant fees through the equipping and furnishing of the completed building.

The Master Plan Begins

The need for upgrades to the existing building, and the consolidation and expansion of services has long been on the radar of library staff and trustees. The point when Asbell realized the possibility of beginning the project was in April 2020 when Senator Blake Tillery asked her to get a master plan together by that July to apply for State funding. When the master plan was prepared and submitted, Asbell was “hopeful but cautious because the State funding requires some matching funding and we had no way to get that large sum locally.” As board members began advocating for funding locally, “the matching money became a reality and it was up to the State Legislators to approve and the Governor to sign the budget.”

The community response was generous, and with the State Legislators' advocacy, what was conceived as a 3-year staggered renovation became an immediate project beginning in May 2021. House Bill 81 passed, and, as stated in part, “provides $3,000,000 in principal for 20 years at 5.77%” for design, construction and equipment funds for the VTL addition, from State General Funds.” Asbell explained, it was the library’s responsibility to provide $600,000 to match the $3 million from the State. “This is based on a formula that we provide 10% for the first million, and 50% for the second million. The third million required no match.' To date, $685,000 has been pledged for renovations, and $700,000 total from donations is expected soon. Library supporters have given above and beyond what is needed, Asbell noted.

“I am overwhelmed by the response of the Board members and the community in raising funds for the renovation,” Asbell said. “Without their generosity, we would still be waiting for the State to allocate money because there was no way we could raise the matching funds without their help. When I moved here, I saw how generous the community was in supporting other organizations. And now, from the smallest donation to the largest, they have come together to make the public library renovation possible.” The master plan is on display at the library for patrons to view. Early in the fundraising campaign last year, Tillery shared with library supporters that the current building and its staff provided a place for him to read and to learn as a child, and, as a young adult, to study for the law school admissions test.

Now, with local contributions exceeding expectations, Tillery said, “I’m truly proud of the families and businesses in our community who have stepped up to support this project. Some of these families are new library patrons and some became patrons years ago. It’s wonderful to see this blending of generational support. The local support from citizens, the library board, and our extremely well-qualified regional librarian, made the project stand out on state lists and are the true reasons this project moved up the state list so quickly.” Building Infrastructure

According to the project summary prepared by Asbell, “The renovation of the existing 53-yearold public library will completely replace the obsolete electrical and technological infrastructure in the building and make the building modern.” The technological infrastructure is in capable hands with Asbell, who has a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) in Technology.

The current 14,212-square-foot building will have an addition of 3,600 square feet and will upgrade several key needs. Some of the essential features to be provided in the final structure include a meeting room large enough to accommodate programs, an entrance and restrooms that meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, several study rooms, dedicated separate children’s and teen spaces, a teaching kitchen, updated and sustainable HVAC system, with special HVAC considerations for the valuable Ladson Collection, and adequate storage. Gary Campbell, an adjunct member of the Board serving on the building committee, spent his career in building supplies and construction services. He is impressed with the library building plans and with the organization of them.

Campbell, and Construction Committee members Howard Holman and Harry Moses, are now working to finalize the floor plan and complete all the other plans needed for the project, including the elevations and all the mechanical plans. The floor plans will streamline the daily operations for the library staff, providing more functional space for them and for patrons. “Every system will be brought to current standards,” Campbell said. “We will have modern technology available for staff and patrons. The building will be much more energy efficient and will be more accessible with the new entryway location, and it will also be fully compliant with all ADA standards. The architect is working with Asbell and the staff to ensure the building is designed efficiently for staff and patron use.” When the Dr. Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library renovation project is complete, a firstclass facility will be ready for the heavy use that the library receives on a daily basis. Operating costs for the day-to-day activities, however, are separate, and need ongoing sources.

Operating Costs are Ongoing It is a misconception that libraries are obsolete, that people don’t use them anymore. Asbell explained that, “in 2019 more people visited the libraries in the United States than went to the movies, museums, concerts, or sporting events, according to a Gallup poll. This increased library usage was consistent with what I saw in Vidalia where the usage has increased by over 200% in the past 5 years and where almost 40% of the people living in Vidalia have a library card. We saw 49,985 visitors and they checked out 41,837 books in Vidalia in 2019. Our computers logged 19,504 logins from patrons making use of our high-speed internet service.” In addition to providing many programs and services to every person in Toombs County, the VTL is the headquarters for the ORLS that serves three other counties in rural Georgia, for a total of 80,000 people. Public libraries are a function of the county government, and roughly 90% of local governments own the libraries. The VTL, however, is owned and operated by the Board of Trustees. It is one of the lowest locally-funded libraries in the State. With the unprecedented support from the State legislators, who asked the Toombs County community to “build a first-class library.” Trustee Holman said, “To have a first-class brick and mortar library, you also have to have an adequate number of trained people on the inside. This is where the Library Board of Trustees is asking for a little more local funding support.”

The Ohoopee Regional Library System is fortunate to have the well-qualified and dedicated Asbell as Director. A primary reason for increased funding is to raise salaries to be comparable with State averages, and to add qualified staff to conduct programs that are already in place. After the renovation is complete, programming potential will expand with the added space; thus, more staff is needed. Asbell is grateful for the current State and community support that provides for staffing. “The professional staff in our library is paid by the State to support the function of the library and must all have a Master of Science, be licensed and maintain continuing education.” Qualified staff then needs utilities, insurance, equipment and supplies to operate the services of the library. Library Trustees have been communicating the need for increased operating funds to the Vidalia City Council and to the Toombs County Commissioners. These municipal Board members have become better informed about the services and continued from page

programs provided free of charge to everyone who enters the library. The response has been favorable to the increased funding requests.

Local school children are primary users of the library’s resources and programming. In 2020, almost $9 million in funding was given to libraries from boards of education (BOE) throughout the state of Georgia. The local BOEs have been approached to add library funding to their upcoming budgets.

The VTL Trustees appreciate the solid feedback and questions they have received from the City, the County and the local Boards of Education. The Trustees want the community to know that these boards are listening to the Library’s needs. How Libraries Are Used

The Library staff and Trustees want to make the community aware that “libraries are the only place in a community where everyone is welcome and there are no criteria for admission. We exist to provide access to information for everyone no matter their age, education, or socioeconomic level.” It is a place to build literacy, continuing education and community engagement.

Asbell explains, “How people use libraries is different from what most people think. Library users are here for free internet, free computer time, tutoring, online classes, self-employed space to work, programs, and a place to be themselves outside of work or home. We have digital books, magazines, online databases, programs, crafts, story time, computers, Wi-Fi, and books.”

Asbell added, “The library is the place where people come to apply for jobs, apply for social security, and food assistance; and librarians are the people who sit down and help them, sometimes when they are at their lowest, and we do it with compassion and absolutely free of charge. “The library is the place where children come to story time and sing and dance before checking out their first book. Where they come to watch magicians, jugglers, and animal programs during the summer. College students come to work and, in a few years, they bring their babies to story time. We see wealthy people who are voracious readers and we see homeless people looking for a place to quietly spend the day inside.” Asbell continued, “The public library provides something for every stage of life and books are just one of the many things we have to offer. There is no other community resource like the library and adequately funding it is an investment in the people of the community and their futures.”

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