Downtown Libraries Serve as Popular Gathering Spaces

April 8, 2015

Newnan Mayor Keith Brady works with young people at the Newnan Carnegie Library.
As more teens, seniors and those in between take an interest in spending time downtown, the downtown public library is taking on an even greater role as a community gathering space.
 
“We have a renovated downtown LaFayette library that opened in December and the amount of traffic we have seen has been phenomenal. We are circulating close to 500 books,” said Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library System in LaFayette. “We are really pleased with the increased use.”

The newly renovated library includes group and private study rooms and a teen center complete with booths and a game room for “hanging out.”
 
“It has been nice to see more teens coming to the library,” Eubanks said. “We have a teen advisory board made up of teens that helped us plan the space, the books we ordered and the programming.”
 
With the renovation, the library now includes larg­er community spaces, including a large meeting room with a kitchen. The library stays open late on Thurs­days, when most meeting spaces are full.

“Our communities often lack meeting spaces that are neutral; the public library can fill that void,” Eu­banks said.
 
The library also offers fireside reading, Internet ac­cessible computers for public use and fiber optic con­nections so people can bring their own devices to easily connect to the Internet.
 
“We are finding that people come and sit in the parking lot to connect to our Wi-Fi,” Eubanks said.
 
When the library system decided to undertake de­signing the new downtown facility it sought feedback from those who used the library and potential users.
 
“We just listened to our community,” Eubanks said. “The way people read is changing and while there are still people who want to pick up the printed word, people are reading on other platforms; we found we don’t need as much space for books, so we could ded­icate that space to meeting spaces.”
 
To build the new 29,000-square-foot library, Eu­banks said the library sys­tem tapped into “all kinds of resources” including Special Purpose Local Op­tion Sales Tax dollars, city and county contributions, state funding and a U.S. Department of Agricul­ture grant. “The local community also purchased nam­ing opportunities at the library, which helped fund our furnishings.”
 
When the planning for the renovation of the city of Newnan’s downtown Carnegie Library was under­way, a “Friends of the Carnegie” group formed and conducted a survey which developed a “Needs Assess­ment” based on the specific wishes and priorities of Newnan residents.
 
“The survey results were provided to the city council along with the input of the Carnegie Library Committee,” explained Carnegie Director Amy Mapel. “The major potential uses for the building included community activities center, popular materials center,

“preschool door to learning” and education and busi­ness support. With the desires of the community in hand, Mapel said city and library leaders created a mis­sion statement prior to the grand opening:
 
The Carne­gie provides a central dynamic gathering place that serves residents of all ages and backgrounds as well as community organizations with a non-circulating reading room, children’s area and meeting spaces enhanced by an art gallery. It seeks to be an integral part of the community by offering print and elec­tronic materials, services and programs to adults and children to enrich daily lives.

 “Today the library is used by ages 0-100 with pro­grams planned for preschoolers, elementary through high school, as well as adult/seniors,” Mapel enthused. “We provide public computers, free Wi-Fi, an honor book system, magazines and newspapers and a separate children’s room with software-loaded computers. In addition we have copy, scan, fax and notary services, a city of Newnan store and meeting rooms that are not only for our programs but are also available for rental by individuals and groups.”
 
Eubanks said the public library makes sense in cities and in downtown. “People are already downtown for ser­vices and shopping. We find that the public library is a nice fit with every­thing else. It creates a community hub.” She also noted libraries should be easily acces­sible. “Your access to in­formation should never be limited by your ability to pay for it,” she said. “We are helping to maintain an educated work force. The public li­brary is inviting, non-threatening and comfortable.”

Newnan’s Carnegie is also a benefi­ciary of its downtown location. “Our location is wonderful due to a vibrant, busy downtown which includes sever­al preschools,” Mapel said. “We are also near other schools and community or­ganizations that are able to utilize our services and attend our programs.”

Other cities are taking notice of the success of downtown libraries.
 
“The city of Lumpkin just recently visited the Carn­egie as they are evaluating their library situation,” Ma­pel noted. “We provided them with a tour, answered many questions about how we got started and what we’re doing today, and gave them budget information. Some suggestions we gave them—get the community involved, ask them what they want, does the county have any usage information from when there was a library located there?”
 
Eubanks’ advice to cities on building or improv­ing a downtown library: “Make sure you involve your community in the planning process and listen to them and meet what is lacking,” she said, “and talk to those who are not currently using the library and find out why.”

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