State considers consolidating public library service for the disabled

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 5, 2013 

State officials are considering consolidating public library service for disabled patrons, and the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries could win or lose in that decision.

It's too early to know whether the Georgia Public Library Service will reduce its eight centers for the disabled to four and which ones would survive such a cut, but that's the discussion CVL director Alan Harkness heard at a state meeting this week.

"The state is getting pressure from the Office of Planning and Budget as to how to run that service statewide more efficiently, and we don't know how that's going to impact us," Harkness told the Muscogee County Library Board at Thursday's meeting.

The Columbus Library for Accessible Services (CLASS), headquartered on the third floor of the Columbus Public Library, is part of a free national program that offers books and magazines in audio format and in Braille to patrons with a visual or physical disability. All materials and equipment are sent to the borrowers and returned by postage-free mail.

CLASS also offers a recording studio and the BARD moblile app (Braille and Audio Reading Download), which allows books and magazines to be downloaded to a computer device.

CVL uses a state grant of about $89,000 to fund CLASS, which serves more than 600 disabled patrons in 11 counties, Harkness said.

"The Office of Planning and Budget is moving to zero-based budgeting, so that's giving the state library some pressure," he said. "They want to make sure everybody is spending as effectively as they can."

Harkness also is dealing with the end-of-the-month retirement of CVL's outreach services coordinator, Suzanne Barnes, who leads CLASS. But he plans to hire her back part-time and elevate the duties of other staff so the disabled patrons don't notice any difference.

"For the folks who use this service, it's vital," he said. "It's really a quality of life issue."

Security system

CVL will take an inventory of its collection to determine whether it would be cost effective to upgrade its security system to combat theft of materials, Harkness said.

"Most library systems, you have to look at a theft-loss rate of over 6 or 7 percent," Harkness said, "and we're preparing now to run those numbers. If you're higher than that, you can do it on a cost recovery basis pretty easily."

The question is whether the cost of a security upgrade -- tens of thousands of dollars, Harkness estimated -- would be more or less than the cost of replacing stolen materials.

E-card

CVL also is exploring the option of creating e-cards in addition to the traditional library cards.

"In the state of Georgia, if you're a minor, your parents have to say, 'Yes, you can have this card and you can check out stuff.' So the onus goes on the parents," Harkness said. "If you check out stuff and lose that stuff, the parents have to pay for it. With an e-card, there's nothing to lose; there are no possessions to deal with."

E-cards don't allow borrowing of materials, but they do allow access to the electronic part of the library's collection.

"I'm excited about what that could mean for students," Harkness said. "Giving them another way to access our collection just improves things for everyone."

Big Read

The next local Big Read, when the community is encouraged to read one book at the same time and a series of activities are conducted to enhance the experience, is scheduled for February. The featured book will be "Fahrenheit 451," the Ray Bradbury 1953 novel about a fictitious American society that outlaws and burns books.

Board member Owen Ditchfield jokingly asked whether CVL would host a book-burning.

Children's Book Festival

Another board member, David Fox, not-so jokingly asked whether the date for CVL's next Children's Book Festival, Sept. 20, would conflict with an Auburn football home game.

No problem, sir, the Tigers are scheduled to play at Kansas State that day.

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