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Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA)

October 1, 2002

A NEW CHAPTER
LOCAL PATRONS TALK ABOUT THE CHANGES

Author: MARK RICE, Staff Writer

Edition: LEDGER-ENQUIRER
Page: A1

Estimated printed pages: 8

Article Text:

Columbus is scheduled to have a new main library in two years. But in so many ways, the city already has one.

Sure, the roof still leaks and parking often is tough to find at the W.C. Bradley Memorial Library. But since the new director was hired last year, the library and its system have made monumental strides toward better service.

Even before the $50.4 million new main library project is complete, staff members and patrons say the library already has delivered priceless new service.

Thanks, they say, to Claudya Muller.

She was hired as the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System's director during the summer of 2001 from Grand Rapids, Mich. She won a nationwide search out of 30 applicants.

While the 52-year-old Bradley building still is falling apart, the staff members and their attitudes already are renovated.

"The feel, the atmosphere is totally different here," said Matilda Smith, the Bradley manager. "It's wonderful."

Alice Budge, president of the Muscogee County Friends of Libraries, now can read book reviews in the Sunday New York Times and find the title she is looking for at the library the next day.

"It's been miraculous," she said. "It used to take so long to get new books into the library. Claudya has energized and empowered her staff to do more things."

Carole Rutland, chairwoman of the Muscogee County Library Board's facilities committee, said Muller has sharpened the library's focus.

"When you hear her talking about the library, it's not what's going to be best for the librarians, but what is going to be best for the customers," Rutland said. "She has changed the whole culture of the library."

Muller deflects the credit back to her staff of 118, which she reduced from about 140, mostly through attrition and consolidation of jobs.

"I can't sing the praises of this staff enough," she said. "Almost all of these people were here before I came. We hired only about eight new staff. So all I did was let them do what needed to be done."

The only knock against Muller seems to be that she insists the staff continue to improve service. She moved some employees into different departments and out of their comfort zones. One librarian said Muller often concludes praising staff members with asking them how they can do the job even better.

"This is the public's library and taxpayers' money," Muller explained. "We need to give them 110 percent of what they pay us. Besides, the day goes faster when you're doing more.''

The evidence

Compared to the previous year, the library system has increased its cardholders 34 percent to about 78,000 and its circulation 16 percent to 652,514 items checked out in the fiscal year ending July 2002. Various surveys estimate the national average circulation increase for the same period ranges from 8 percent to 11 percent.

Maurice Freedman, president of the American Library Association, put the Columbus success in perspective.

"I think your numbers are terrific," said Freedman, director of the public library system in Westchester, N.Y. "Increases are going on all over the country, but yours seems to be at the top of the chart. That's really dramatic, really spectacular."

Muller, however, stresses how far the Chattahoochee regional library has to go. For library systems of similar size, (100,000 to 249,999) the national average of cardholders compared to citizens is about 50 percent. The local library system was at 25 percent in 1999 and improved to 31 percent this year.

The staff

Rutland notes the difference in the library compared to a year ago is obvious as soon as you walk into the Bradley.

"In the past, when you went in, it was a cold feeling," Rutland said. "Now, it's open and warm. They greet you and it's more receptive. They ask what they can do to help you."

That's because staff members say it's a more pleasant place to work.

Wanda Edwards, the adult services coordinator, said she and her colleagues have better attitudes.

"We're more forward thinking now," said Edwards, who has been working in the library for eight years. "We have higher goals. We want to be the top library in the U.S. We're no longer just struggling to get by one day at a time."

That new outlook, Edwards said, comes from Muller.

"Claudya has been a great inspiration and leader," she said. "As soon as she got here, she immediately embraced the community and found out what they wanted. We've gone from being isolated and keeping a low profile to being out there and responding to people's needs."

Edwards figures the improved relationship between the library and community started with the way Muller was hired. Guy Sims, then the superintendent, made the three finalists for the director's job available to the public at receptions so residents could give him feedback about them. Muller was the overwhelming public favorite.

"Claudya came here warmly welcomed and that set us up so she didn't start on the defensive," Edwards said. "She knew about the problems we had and went out there to make everyone proud."

Gary McCullough, working at the library for nine years, is among the employees with a different job since Muller came to town. He moved from reference librarian to collection development coordinator.

"I know it's been stressful for people with a lot of transfers and reassignments," he said. "You're suddenly expected to do a lot of things you didn't have to before, but now you're gaining an understanding of what we're trying to do because Claudya has a vision.

"She has said a number of times she'd like us to be the library of the year. We've always had good people here. It's just that something different is being asked of us. We're being asked to be the best. Just making do isn't OK anymore."

McCullough lauded Muller for "treating us like independent professionals." He is amazed colleagues are talking with each other about how to better serve patrons.

"Before, you could suggest an easy improvement that wouldn't even cost any money, but (the administration) would say no, so you would learn to not even think of way to improve," he said. "Now, we're on the road and going somewhere."

McCullough laughed and added, "But we're probably not going as fast as Claudya would like."

The urgency comes from the new main library opening in two years. Muller wants a staff and service to match the world-class building.

"These changes need to be made now so they can be integrated into our jobs so we don't have to deal with that when we have all the other things to worry about while moving into a new building," McCullough said. "It's an invisible foundation we're building now before they even break ground on the new building."

McCullough's ultimate measure of success may be a bit more personal.

"One of my goals is to win over my sisters to being more regular library users," he said. "They are both big readers and movie viewers but they tend to buy books or rent videos rather than check them out from the library. I know I will have succeeded when they rave as much about the bestseller or DVD they got at the library as they do about what they found at the Friends book sale or in a retail store."

Last week, several patrons at the Bradley Library shared their views about the changes the library has made during the past year:

College student: Kiosha Biggs, 19, is a freshman majoring in computer information systems at Columbus Technical College. She comes to the Bradley Library about four times per week to use the Internet.

"I get a lot more assistance here now," said Biggs, a Kendrick High graduate. "They'll look up something for you or show you how to do it yourself."

Day laborer: Mark Cushing, 20, uses the Bradley Library computers to check his e-mail.

"My modem is messed up at home," he said.

Cushing added that he would use the Bradley more often "now that they have more space for the computers. They used to be so cramped in that corner. You have more elbow room now."

Retiree: Tom Dillard, a resident of the Ralston Towers, said he was sad to see the library system close the 12th Street branch at the end of last year as its circulation dropped 14 percent. But he appreciates the library giving large-print books to the Ralston.

Dillard, 66, goes to the Bradley Library once a week with his sister, Grace Marie Dillard, 70, a sister of mercy at St. Anne's.

She comes for the books on tape and CD. He comes for the free videos.

"Anyone who goes to Blockbuster, their sales slip should be their ticket to Milledgeville," he said, referring to the state mental hospital.

Beyond having the best price, the selection and service also have improved this past year, he said. He likes the new system of shelving the videos alphabetically by title, rather than topic. And when he couldn't find Part II of "The Stand," a librarian tracked it down.

"It took a few weeks, but they got it for me," he said with a laugh.

Counselor : Cindy Holden, 29, is a graduate student in community counseling at Troy State University. She lives in Columbus, but last week was the first time she was at the Bradley Library in at least three years.

"I'm really overwhelmed and impressed with all the changes," she said.

Her uncle encouraged her to go to the library to find books on crocheting because he's going to teach her to make a quilt this Thanksgiving.

"And I found lots of them," she said. "It's wonderful."

Videos, too. Holden likes the library's new system of shelving videos with the books on a particular topic.

"I wouldn't have looked for a video on crocheting because I didn't think they made them," she said. "That's a nice surprise."

Homemaker: Marie Key, 36, home-schools her three children: Daniel, 10; Joshua, 7, and David, 3. The library often is her classroom.

"I can get more help here now," she said. "They have newer books, more computers, more movies. They're constantly updating. There also seems to be a bigger area for the children."

That's why she brings her children two or three times per week now, compared to about once a week last year.

BY THE NUMBERS

A statistical look at some of the improvements in the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System during the past fiscal year, ending July 2002, compared to previous year:

Circulation: 652,514, up

16 percent.

Checkouts per capita: 3.03, up 20 percent.

Patron visits per capita: 2.49, up 11 percent.

Reference transactions per capita: 0.39, up 14 percent.

Average checkouts per item: 1.95, up 82 percent.

Checkouts per registered borrower: 8.55, up

19 percent.

CHANGES

Highlights of the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System changes during the past year:

Automated catalog: Discarded the library card file in favor of a computerized catalog. Now patrons can reserve materials wherever they have access to the Internet. The staff made 174,652 corrections to the database.

Efficient budget: The system's overall budget didn't grow much --- from about $5.2 million to $5.3 million --- but Muller more than doubled the money to buy books and other materials from $300,000 to $637,000 by reducing the staff from about 140 to 118, mostly through attrition and consolidation of jobs, and pulling funds from supplies and periodicals that weren't widely used.

Computer cabling: The Wide Area Network scheduled to be ready by the end of the year is expected to save the library about $100,000 in telecommunications bills, Muller said.

Reconfigured the Bradley: Disposed of old reference materials to make more room for computers; moved audiovisual materials to first floor to create room for teen department with a homework help center in basement; opened up circulation desk.

Closed 12th Street branch: Circulation decreased 14 percent in the previous year at the branch while it increased in the rest of the system.

Summer reading program: A record number of children --- 5,200 --- participated, compared to 2,700 the previous year.

Faster ordering: Making transition from writing orders for new materials on paper to ordering them on the computer. Items now take about a week to arrive instead of more than a month.

Better prices: Staff now shops around for distributors who give at least a 42 percent discount, instead of going through same one with only a 20 percent discount.

Adding to collection: About 2,700 new items are being added to the collection each month. DVDs, books on CD and Spanish language materials are available for the first time this year. Board approved more than $500,000 for new materials and equipment.

Weeding collection: Nearly 30,000 outdated, worn, seldom or never-read books were discarded from the collection, out of about 375,000 items.

Dropped non-resident fee: Now anyone can get a free library card.

Valley Reads: The library helped coordinate the first Valley Reads program, which encourages the community to read one book together and discuss it.

Library friends: Muscogee County Friends of Libraries has raised about $100 per week since January, selling used books from carts at each branch.

Partnerships: Barnes & Noble, the Springer Opera House, the Historic Columbus Foundation, the Columbus Museum and other organizations have joint programs with the library. So when artists and exhibits come to town, related materials are displayed at the library.

Bestsellers: More bestsellers and multiple copies are being bought and more prominently displayed.

Outreach: Added a library at the Teenage Parenting Center and deposit collections at retirement and nursing homes.

Expanded computer resources: Added the "DartClix" subscription service that catalogs Web sites evaluated by librarians to make patron searches more efficient. This fall, a subscription service for preparation on more than 40 standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, will be added.

CHALLENGES

Outdated collection: The average age of an item in the collection is 14 years old; 78 percent of reference materials are more than 10 years old.

Faulty facilities and equipment: Air-conditioning units leak through the ceiling at the Bradley and North Columbus branch. Only one of the five computers in the Bradley's children's department is fully functional. Usage at the Mildred L. Terry branch is outgrowing the building's size.

IF YOU GO

What: Muscogee County Friends of Libraries hosts a reception for the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System staff to celebrate the past year's improved service

When: 4-6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road

Even before the new library opens, its director

is credited with giving the facility a fresh start

Caption:
Photo MIKE HASKEY Ledger-Enquirer

Copyright (c) 2002 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
Record Number: 0210010009