Libraries are the original Google.
Marian Wynn, the director of the Emma Knox Kenan Public Library in Geneva, recently referenced the library and Google analogy when describing the importance of libraries.
“We were here before them,” Wynn said. “Libraries are more than just books. We’re a place of information. People can get any information from a book on frogs or help on how to write a resume.”
Wynn said they have four public computers with free Internet access.
“Geneva has a lot of people who do not have Internet access at home,” Wynn said. “We do have some eBooks too.”
Nancy Pack, the director of the Alabama Public Library Service, said tough financial times hitting area businesses and government agencies haven’t left libraries untouched. Pack said libraries across the state have seen drops in funding from the federal, state and local levels.
“Libraries aren’t getting as much money as they did at one time, especially in the smaller, rural areas,” Pack said.
Pack said the state funding has dropped to 78 cents per capita from $1.09 several years ago. She said federal funding has dropped, including the money libraries receive from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
“At the local level, really it’s seeing the tax revenues aren’t there to support the local libraries as industries have closed up,” Pack said. “In general they’re just maintaining the current programs, and not adding any new ones.”
Pack said a couple of libraries across the state are no longer open, including the Ariton-Dot Laney Memorial Library in Dale County.
But she also said the two libraries, which also included the Choctaw County Public Library in Butler, have not officially closed because their local governing bodies have not submitted their closing papers.
Pack said the Choctaw County Public Library suspended its services in December 2014. She said it’s unclear how long the Ariton library has not been open to the public.
Amid the tough financial times Wynn said she’s seen a 75 percent increase in usage at the Geneva Public Library over the past decade.
But Wynn also said their funding at the state level has been cut by 40 percent since 2008.
“We’re just getting stretched really tight,” Wynn said. “I don’t know what’s going on, and libraries are easy pickings when it comes to budget cuts.”
She said they changed hours of operation around a year ago to allow more time for the staff to do administrative work . The hours were changed from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to the current hours of operation of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We have to do it all, and that includes cleaning toilets,” Wynn said. “By reducing our hours we’re able to get work done that takes a lot of concentration like paying bills.”
Wynn said she’s one of two full-time staff members at the library. Last year the library lost its only part-time employee for three months. But they filled the position in December.
Given more funding Wynn hopes to bring back several successful programs such as the afternoon children’s preschool program.
“I would also like to bring back the teenage middle school book club,” Wynn said. “It was very popular.”
Wynn said the middle school book club had 17 students in it with a waiting list of others. It lasted one year. The preschool program stopped around 2009.
Wynn said they’re always open to donations , whether it is financial or books, especially if they’re in good condition.
Wynn has also worked with Geneva High School to make all their school yearbooks digital. She said they’re selling any school yearbook on CD as part of a fundraiser for the school library.
“We need more staff to bring back our old programs, and to bring in some new ones,” Wynn said.
Wynn also called the Emma Knox Kenan Public Library in Geneva one of the few libraries in the area on the Alabama historic registry. The Geneva Public Library first established in 1904, but the current building was built in 1931 Wynn said the building expanded in 1975, and an elevator was added in 2008.
“We’re important because people love to read,” Wynn said.
Some libraries are partnering with local groups in efforts to find more funding.
Roger Duclos, the treasurer of the friends of the Daleville Public Library, said they’re working toward making the friends of the library group a nonprofit group called the Dal e ville Public Library Foundation.
“It’s very important when you try to look outside the box by adding resources,” Duclos said. “It’s trying to get more resources to the community by trying to grow.”
Duclos said the friends of the library group is still in the process of completing the merger into nonprofit status. Duclos, who will serve as the president of the foundation, said it will hopefully make it easier for the library to receive donations because the foundation will make the donations tax deductible.
Duclos said the library will be separate from the foundation. He said the foundation will serve in a supporting role of the library.
“It is because of tough times,” Duclos said. “It’s to keep the library operating. We are looking into the future. Needs are increasing and budgets are getting tough. A public charity can reach out into the community in ways a library cannot.”
The financial tough times haven’t totally evaded Houston County.
Both the regional branches in Ashford and Columbia of the Dothan Houston County Library System have struggled with funding issues. But library system director Bettye Forbus said both local governments have responded with increased support for the libraries.
“We justified our case and they realized their citizens wanted thriving, engaged libraries, and they are willing to help support them,” Forbus said.
Forbus said officials in Columbia have undertaken a campaign to raise more awareness about their library.
“At this point there are no plans to cut or eliminate services at either branch,” Forbus said. “Everybody wants to have a library in their town, but they don’t always want to fund it. It’s a big commitment to have a library because there’s got to be a big community support.”
Forbus said they now offer a book mobile stop at the Gordon town hall after their mayor requested services from the public library. She said the book mobiles now also offer free wifi services.
“It was a lot easier to have a book mobile stop than to have a standalone branch,” Forbus said.
Forbus said libraries rely heavily on donations from the community to supplement appropriations from elected officials whether from the local, state or federal levels.
“That’s why we have an active friends group,” Forbus said. “Friends and individuals are vital for the continued support.”
Deborah McLain, the director of the Abbeville Memorial Public Library, said she will host a state of the libraries meeting with other area librarians on Thursday.
“We find a lot of the issues we have are similar, and we talk about what we can do to promote different programs,” McLain said.
McLain said updating and upgrading became her goal for the library when she became director five years ago.
McLain said the Abbeville library completed a renovation just over two years ago in 2012 with the help of a gran t from the USDA. She said it was the first renovation since the library was built in 1969. She said they also now have 16 iMac computers for people to use in the library.
“It gave people an impression they could probably get what they needed at a more modern, up-to-date facility,” McLain said. “There’s still a need for libraries. We provide Internet for people who can’t afford it. One of the benefits of a small town library is we try to help our people find jobs, and we help them develop resumes.”
Forbus said February marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of the two libraries in Dothan. She also said it’s about redefining what libraries can be for people in the community.
“We’re perhaps serving a different role than the traditional libraries, but we’re still meeting the needs of the people,” Forbus said. “A lot of time people think of libraries as only a place for books. We’re more than books.”
Forbus said the Dothan Houston County Public Library offers a variety of activities ranging from the showing of a family movie once a month to a Lego club. The libraries also offer weekly story times for preschool age children. The children’s areas of the libraries also have train sets at a play area for the children. The downtown branch has story time on Tuesday mornings and the Westgate branch has story time on Wednesday mornings.
“Kids need to think of the library as a cool, fun place to go rather than some place to go to do home work. They learn early on to associate a book with fun,” Forbus said. “I think if we get those warm feelings about books and reading before anyone makes them go for school work then we’ve got them hooked. Once you plant that seed you grow life-long library users.”
Forbus said they also offer a large variety of eBooks to people, along with free access to the I nternet.
“We’ve got one foot in the print world for regular library books, but we’ve got the other foot in the digital world,” Forbus said. “Everybody knows the times are changing.”
But Forbus said it’s also an ongoing process of making sure the people in the community are aware of what the local library has to offer.
“It’s an ongoing educational process of making sure you r community is aware of what you do,” Forbus said.
Forbus said they’re regularly looking for feedback from the community about what they want from their library.
“I do think we have to tell our stories,” Forbus said. “Libraries help guide people to the information they want. Libraries, we’re not going anywhere. Libraries will always still have a role.”