24-Hour Libraries: The new way for Columbus area residents to borrow books and DVDs

24-Hour Libraries reach readers in North Columbus

The Chattahoochee Valley Libraries have open two 24-Hour Libraries funded by the 2015 SPLOST - vending machines with more than 300 selections to serve locations in North Columbus. Part II of the SPLOST money with go toward the South Branch renovation
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The Chattahoochee Valley Libraries have open two 24-Hour Libraries funded by the 2015 SPLOST - vending machines with more than 300 selections to serve locations in North Columbus. Part II of the SPLOST money with go toward the South Branch renovation

Instead of spending millions of dollars on a new branch, new 24-hour Libraries are considered a cost-effective way to make it easier for residents in the growing areas of north Columbus to borrow books and DVDs from the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries. And these two are considered the first of their kind in the Southeast.

A few dozen folks braved the sub-freezing temperature Wednesday morning to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 24-Hour Library at 6600 Flat Rock Road, behind the McDonald’s restaurant. The other 24-Hour Library is at 1241 Double Churches Road, next to Double Churches Elementary School.

The 24-Hour Libraries are like self-service vending machines, enclosed in heated and air-conditioned structures. Each unit, manufactured by EnvisionWare of Duluth, Ga., weighs approximately 6,000 pounds when empty, measuring 7.87 feet deep and high and 11.48 feet wide. Patrons can browse the 347 items in each machine as they rotate along three rows. Using their library card, they use a display screen to select their items.

“This is a great example of reaching out in the community,” said Marion Scott, chairwoman of the Muscogee County Library Board. “What better thing than to be able to pick up a book, return a book or some other material and do it in a convenient location, a self-service location? . . . This is just a great day for us.”

Pat Hugley Green, chairwoman of the Muscogee County School Board, which owns and operates the county’s semi-autonomous public libraries, praised the concept of the 24-Hour Libraries.

“That’s 21st-Century thinking,” she said. “That’s 21st-Century leadership. We’re just super excited about it.”

David Lewis, superintendent of the Muscogee County School District, called this project another chapter in the relationship between MCSD and the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, which comprises the public libraries in Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Marion and Stewart counties.

“We all know the vital importance of reading and how important it is to the education of our citizens,” Lewis said.

Lewis thanked citizens of Columbus for passing the 2015 referendum that renewed the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The 24-Hour Libraries are one of the projects funded by the SPLOST.

The total cost to construct the two 24-Hour Libraries was approximately $444,000, CVL director Alan Harkness told the Ledger-Enquirer, including $400,000 from the SPLOST and the rest from the library system’s operating fund.

The two 24-Hour Libraries have been open for about six weeks during their soft-opening period, circulating a total of 200-300 items at each unit, Harkness said.

Without much publicity, he noted, “It’s been pretty good so far.” Now that they are officially opened, and with a marketing campaign set to start, he added, “I’d love to do 1,000-2,000 a month.”

To put those numbers in perspective, the North Columbus Public Library, 5689 Armous Road, the closest CVL branch to the 24-hour locations, averages approximately 25,000 borrowed items per month, Harkness said.

Library officials stocked the machines with “a wide variety of popular materials,” Harkness said, but they will tweak those collections based on the interest shown by patrons.

“People will vote with their feet,” he said. “We will see what they check out the most.”

The challenge for the staff, Harkness said, will be to have enough of the 347 slots available in each machine for the reserved items patrons request to be picked up at the 24-Hour Libraries. Patrons may pick up or return nearly any CVL item at the 24-Hour Libraries.

“Some books will be too large for them,” Harkness said. “They can only hold a certain size.”

And they can order any CVL item at the 24-Hour Libraries. They also can return any item they get at the 24-Hour Libraries to any other CVL branch.

Harkness echoed Lewis’ gratitude when he told the gathering, “What you see before you is a gift that the citizens of this county gave themselves. Service and accessibility drive our service. It’s an important part of why we’re here, to serve our community. … Facilities like this help us bridge gaps between where folks are and where they aren’t.”

One of the tenets of public library service, Harkness said, is that residents tend to not visit a library if it’s more than 10 minutes away. The 24-Hour Libraries at Flat Rock and Double Churches are on the cusp of that distance from the North Columbus Public Library. So CVL officials analyzed where their cardholders live and where the growth in Columbus is, then sought available property in heavily trafficked but accessible locations for the self-service units, he said.

CVL is leasing the Flat Rock location from Pezold Management for $1,500 per month and the Double Churches location from Spires Properties for $500 per month, Harkness said.

Long-term, Harkness said, he would like CVL to build a new branch in the northernmost area of the county. Such a project, he estimated, would cost $3.5 million to $5 million. The 24-Hour Libraries will help CVL understand where such a branch would best serve those residents, he said.

“It’s dipping our toe in the water,” he said.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.