By Joshua Price
When a business is successful, it naturally expands to different locations to serve a different population.
When a library expands, it does so to serve more people or house more books.
The Gadsden Public Library recently expanded, but for more than just the above two reasons.
The GPL now has three locations to serve the patrons of Etowah County. The main branch, located on College Street in Gadsden, along with the branches in Alabama City and East Gadsden. These buildings are more than just a final resting place for centuries of classical literary works and periodicals.
The GPL network is quickly establishing itself as a premiere educational facility.
Adult Librarian Craig Scott insists the recent and future success of the GPL resides in its ability to host “programs” to educate the community and keep patrons updated on technology, noting that the educational programs at the library are similar to teaching an old dog new tricks.
“To keep up with the times and the needs of the patrons, we have installed different programs,” Scott said. “Patrons of all ages are interested in different kinds of research. People used to go to the library to do research, and they still do. However, many people research from home on the computer. We understand this trend and we host programs to teach people exactly how to research online, such as the best websites and software available and what not to look for online. We emphasize that in most cases, the internet just cannot replace the resources that the library offers.”
Scott said GPL-sponsored educational programs have increased over the past decade.
“Ten years ago, GPL may have sponsored 50 programs,” Scott said. “Last year, we did over 560 (programs). A few years ago, director Amanda Jackson challenged the staff to get more involved in programs, and the number steadily rose and continues to increase monthly.”
Programs include “Brunch with Books,” “Genealogy 101,” and “Social Networking.”
Scott said a popular program for kids is “hunting.” Kids are assigned topics but cannot use the internet for research.
“We give kids topics to research and do not allow them to use the internet to find information,” Scott said. “These topics are obscure enough to make them look in different books for information. The kids learn to use the catalogue, the books and learn about what the library offers. They see how valuable the library is as an alternative to the internet.
“The GPL system is an outreach to the community. We want to reach out to people who cannot get to the main branch. Each of our branch libraries offers different collections to each community. The main branch is always working to improve the smaller branches and what they can offer.
The Alabama City Branch has a quilting program for ladies.
“The ladies at Alabama City’s quilting group made a quilt last fall that was made from cloth from the Dwight Cotton Mill,” Scott said. “Someone found rolls of cloth in a relative’s home near the site of the cotton mill. A patron obtained the rolls, donated it to the quilters and they made the quilt.”
The quilt is on display at the Alabama City branch.
In addition, GPL-Alabama City teams with The Ritz Theatre for “Movie Night,” in which the Ritz management offered GPL use of the theatre for a night free of charge.
“Mark suggested using the comfortable seating at the recently opened Ritz Theatre, which would better accommodate our patrons plus help get the word out that The Ritz was back in business,” Scott said. “Pauline Roberts of the Alabama City branch talked to our director [Amanda Jackson] and myself and we agreed that it would be a good partnership. Thus our new “Movies at The Ritz” program began.”
Scott said there is no charge for viewing the movies, but the GPL asks for small donations to help cover the costs of popcorn and utilities.
“Because of our licensing agreements with various movie production companies, we are not allowed to charge for showing ‘their’ movies. We can only show them free of charge. But that is okay with us!”
Gadsden Progress Library – page 3C
Formerly located at the East Gadsden Community Center, the GPL’s East Gadsden branch recently moved to its new location at 809 East Broad Street behind the Echols Building and beside the Family Success Center. The new location is near the Etowah County Health Department and the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.
GPL will soon host a Book Club with the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club to get the kids more involved.
“The location near the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs will give East Gadsden a unique advantage over the other branches, including the main branch,” Scott said. “They will be able to interact directly with the clubs.”
The new location also features a trolley stop for patrons who take advantage of the city transportation system.
“The East Gadsden branch is in a much better location,” Scott pointed out. “Patrons will have better access to it and it is convenient because of the location.”
How serious in the GPL about progressing? It closed the doors of the main branch for the entire month of December in order to improve the library’s systems. Through the Alabama Library System, the Gadsden Public Library obtained a federal grant that allowed the facility to upgrade technological capabilities, which in turn allows the staff to better serve the community.
Called Radio Frequency Identification, the system allows the library staff to better monitor and control inventory, increase loss prevention and give patrons a faster check in/out process.
Scott said there were 250,000 reasons why the library closed for such an extended amount of time.
“We retagged over 250,000 items across all three branches in December. Staff members spent an entire month retagging books, cassettes, DVDs and any other form of media owned by the library.”
Tags are located in the items and are linked to the GPL system. The tags carry detailed information about the items. The staff can manage and control inventory more effectively with the new system.
“We are now able to find items instantly with the new technology,” Scott added. “New gates at the entrance foyer are more sensitive and help with security/prevention. Patrons are pleased with the new system because we added two new self checkout stations.”
Scott said that the RFID system is very popular among large libraries across the nation. Librarians from Gadsden recently visited the University of Alabama and learned about the system at the Hoole Library.
“All the big libraries have gone to this system and we are excited to follow suit,” Scott said. “This is just one of the ways the GPL is moving into the 21st century.”
Scott said GPL administration rolled up their sleeves during the December retagging and found that much of the collections at the branches were outdated.
“The branches soon will be allowed to spend $400 a month on whatever they want due to increased budgets for the branches,” Scott said. “Because of the library discount, they are able to stretch that money further, especially over 12 months time. That’s $4,800 extra per year the branches will have to spend on whatever they want or need. We never really knew what we had until we got in there retagging.”
Scott said the GPL is progressing culturally as well.
“We are scanning and digitizing old pictures for people to see on our website. We have thousands of photos that have been tucked away for decades and not viewed by the public. When those are completed, we have over 6,000 slides we will digitize. We now have the most updated equipment and technology to take on this project. Our staff can only do so much at a time, so all we need is an army of volunteers to help out!”