By: Margie Williamson 

(Cleveland)- White County Judge Raymond George recently explained the importance of public libraries. “If more people spent more time in the library, they would spend less time in front of me.” True words!

Librarian R. David Lankes describes what a library can accomplish. “Bad libraries build collections,” he says, “Good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”

White County Public Library (Google Streetview)

But what happens when the library no longer has the space to accomplish what Judge George proposed––providing life-changing experiences that can educate, motivate and inspire us? Or, as Lankes proposes, the limitations of space hold the library back from building strong, knowledgeable communities?

That’s a question the White County Library Board has had to ask. The question has been discussed for years in the county and possible options have been discussed. In 2021, the board came to agreement that it was time to take the next step to make the possibilities become a reality – a new library for Cleveland patrons.

Fundraising for a new library

In September 2021, the board appointed a team that was given the goal to raise $200,000 in funding for a new library for Cleveland. In less than eight months, the team has raised $120,000 and expects to hit the $200,000 target by the end of 2022. Nadine Wardenga, chair of the fundraising team, credits the $50,000 anonymous gift, given as a matching funds donation, as a major part of the team’s fundraising success to date.

On April 22, the team hosted a fundraiser gala at Cenita Vineyards in White County. They sold 142 seats for the gala and conducted an auction and a wine pool to raise the matching funds. During the event, the team reached the $50,000 matching funds requirement for the first gift. However, Wardenga says the biggest surprise of the evening was the donor who walked up and handed her a check for $20,000. She expects additional funds to come in over the next weeks.

The Cleveland and Helen libraries offer less than half of the state-recommended library space for a population the size of White County’s. (Photo Jenna Shaw)

Why is a new library in Cleveland so desperately needed?

The Cleveland Library’s patronage has steadily grown as the area population has increased. During the fiscal year of June 2020 – June 2021, over 30,000 patrons visited the county’s two libraries, over 60,000 print and other physical materials have been checked out, almost 9,000 eBooks and eAudio materials have been accessed, and more than 3,000 computer users have logged into library computers. For Cleveland, that’s been a great blessing, but brings with it tremendous challenges.

 

White County actually has two libraries – one in Cleveland and one in Helen. The Cleveland facility has about 6,000 square feet of space, and the Helen facility has about 4,000 square feet of space, in which to operate. However, state standards based on the population of White County recommend 22,912 square feet in which to operate, more than double what both libraries provide.

The space limitations impact what can happen in the library. Children’s programming cannot be offered within the library because of limited space and lack of division between areas. The children’s area is positioned directly beside the computers available to patrons, causing noise distractions for both groups. Summer programming for children has to be offered off-site in Freedom Park in downtown Cleveland.

Space limitations mean there’s no room to provide learning labs or a computer lab. The genealogy resource area has become an overflow storage area, limiting its availability to the community as well. And there’s no quiet space available for tutoring or meetings.

What does it take to build a new county library?

The Cleveland Library has run out of floor and storage space. (Jenna Shaw/Now Habersham)

Any new county library build can draw from three sources for funding. The first is that of the community. The $200,000 that will be raised by the end of the year is obviously a drop in the new library’s budget bucket, but it shows the support the community has for a new library.

The second major source is the Capital Outlay Grant (COG) that’s available through the Georgia Legislature. If granted, the COG will provide $900,000 (or 90% of the first $1 million). The fundraising team already has the required $100,000 of local funding for the first million. With legislative approval, the COG will then provide 50% against the next million dollars. However, the COG commitment cannot go over $2 million.

The third major source is the county itself, and the role of the County Commissioners is huge in this. And the County Commissioners actually control what happens next.

According to Delana Knight, the Director of the Northeast Georgia Regional Library, no application for the COG grant can be made until the county commits to the building project and provides funding for the project. To apply for the COG for possible funding in either 2023 or 2024, the application must be submitted by July of 2022. Even then, the building process itself could take two or three years before the new library becomes a priority.

How can you help?

The most important thing the community of White County can do at this time is to get involved with the library. If you don’t have a library card, go by the library and get one. They’re free.

Find out how you can get involved. You can join the Friends of the Library who help raise funds to provide special needs not included in the library’s budget. Get to know library personnel and find out what you can do to help. Find out how you can get involved in the next fundraising opportunity.

And consider making a contribution to the new library building fund.

Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to White County Public Library, Cleveland, P.O. Box 657 Cleveland, Georgia 30528. For additional information or to volunteer to help, contact Nadine Wardenga at manners4u@windstream.net.