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The Four Librarians Who Make it All Happen
As the saying goes – When you absolutely positively have to know, ask a librarian. The Statesboro Regional Library System has four librarians who oversee the daily operations, plan and organize the programming, conduct classes and schedule activities each week, with one great benefit to the public – all of the classes and activities are free! Under their leadership, today’s library system is a vibrant learning center full of programs for children and personal growth opportunities for adults, that seeks to provide a place and a sense of community to engage, educate and enlighten the public.
Jennifer Durham, a native of Sylvester, Georgia, (the peanut capital of the world, she shared), is Regional Director of the Statesboro Library System. She is responsible for the local libraries in Statesboro, Metter, Claxton, Pembroke, Richmond Hill and Swainsboro.
Following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Mary Joines Durham, who was head of Tech Services at Valdosta State University, Durham earned her Master’s in Library Science at Florida State University. She worked briefly in Pasco, County, Florida, a “bedroom community for Tampa” before returning to Georgia. She joined the Statesboro Library System, working at the regional offices on East Grady Street and at various county locations.
“I was a consultant for the Candler County Library,” said Durham, “And as the libraries kept growing, I moved within the system. My responsibilities grew, too. One year after the director left, the trustees asked me to apply for the job.”
She has been the director for three years and finds having an office at the Statesboro branch exciting.
“I am learning every day,” said Durham. “It helps when you believe in the services and want the best for the communities you serve.”
Durham works on long-range planning and goals for the individual libraries within the regional system. She works closely with the library boards in each community to help address issues on funding and support that the libraries may find challenging.
“We consider things like the effect of the ESPLOST vote. Whether we should build a library in Brooklet or Portal? Funding. Staffing,” she said.
Durham is also involved with securing grants for special projects such as replacing the public computers and in the maintenance and operations of all the facilities.
“We have a real working board and a community as a whole that has been very supportive of the library’s plans and activities,” said Durham.
Funds for operating the library come from the state of Georgia, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and the Friends of the Library who hold fundraisers throughout the year to raise money to pay for programming.
“We would not be able to offer all of the programming we have without the support of the Friends,” said Durham.
For the first time in a while, the Statesboro Regional Library has a full-time librarian of its own. Since Durham’s arrival, Darlene Alessi has been hired to manage the Statesboro branch. Alessi, a native of New York (Not the Big Apple), worked in the academic field for 22 years prior to becoming a librarian.
“I got a B.A. and an M.S., but didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “I went back to school and got a second Master’s in Library Science and started scouring the internet for jobs.”
She landed in Statesboro two years ago and has been expanding library services and programming, while managing the facilities and the staff.
Alessi shared, “Statesboro has always had a strong library and has been head of the regional system since 1941. The Statesboro system was one of the first three systems in Georgia.” It was built by the WPA in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Subsidies for libraries eventually ended and states had to look at supporting libraries all over the state. That’s when the library system was born. Statesboro’s system has six facilities in neighboring counties.”
Alessi’s mission is to manage the facilities, maintain the building, increase programing for children and adults, and strengthen customer service.
Her greatest challenge is with maintenance.
“We have replaced lights and HVACs,” she said. “We will soon be paving the parking lot to repair damage from water run-off.” Funds for these projects come from state matching grants for which the librarians apply yearly to keep up the community’s investment and equity. The stairwells will soon need to be replaced along with the 30 year old elevator.
“State funds from bond sales allocated by the legislature allowed us to buy new furniture, paint the walls, and purchase computers and computer tables,” said Alessi.
The library has also been able to purchase Chrome books for the Maker’s Monday programs and with STEAM grants awarded in the past two years purchased Lego robots, a 3-D printer, a green screen for video production along with a GoPro camera, a silhouette printer and a vinyl printer.
All of these gadgets expand the offerings of the library far beyond books to benefit the general public by making the latest in electronics available for programs, activities and learning. Not everyone can afford the latest in electronics, but the library levels the learning playing field by providing the public access to technology.
Cindy Hatchell, a native of Bell County, Kentucky, joined the library staff as head of children’s programing in August of 2015. Since then new programs have been developed that have increased library traffic and engagement ten-fold.
Hatchell has built upon popular weekly activities like the Toddler Time story readings on Wednesday mornings, and the Home School students’ group programs on Thursdays. She has added a Geography Club, DIY Club for teens, ANIME and Manga Clubs, chess club, Lego club, game nights, craft nights, crocheting, music & lyrics, and movies. Kids can also take advantage of special props within the Children’s Activity area such as a puppet show.
Hatchell started out to train as a teacher, but during student teaching, she realized that she wanted to work with kids in another way that would make a difference.
“I love it because I can be creative and invent programing,” said Hatchell. “It really is the best gig ever!”
She finds it most rewarding “when a child finds a book he or she likes and they start reading and become excited and engaged and their eyes light up – they are getting it – the importance of reading,” she said.
Her greatest challenge is finding ways to keep teens interested. “My mission for the older kids is to keep them engaged. I want to reach them and let them know that they can make a difference, that they can go to college and be successful in life,” she said.
Eight years ago in Kentucky, Hatchell started a program called “52 Weeks of Giving.” Each Friday afternoon a group of volunteers gathers at the library to do random acts of kindness throughout the community. They’ve furnished pet beds for the Humane Society, held a luggage drive for foster kids, and created lap blankets for nursing home residents for whom they also do carols & cards at Christmas. They hold bake sales for Veterans, and on November 3 they will hold a blood drive for Team Ireland, the third one at the library this year.
Hatchell has also planned some special programming for one Saturday each month around a book give-a-way. September featured Curious George with a life size George in attendance. The event overflowed the children’s section and took over the whole library. November’s theme will be dinosaurs, and December will feature Breakfast with Santa and a special viewing of the Polar Express, plus a Christmas sing-a-long.
Check the Library website strl.info for monthly updates on children’s and adult’s activities.
Lillian Wingate is a part-time genealogy librarian from Pelham, Georgia, in charge of the Brannen Room section of the library where some of Bulloch County’s most precious historical records are held. She holds a degree in History & Anthropology from Georgia Southern.
“Some people have no idea how to do what they need to do,” said Wingate, “We’re here to help them find the information they are seeking, and that goes beyond searching for ancestors.”
Wingate admits genealogy is in her genes. “My education is in history, but my mother is a genealogist, and what is genealogy, but family history,” she said.
Wingate was the first undergraduate at G.S. to work on the Camp Lawton display under the direction of Dr. Brent Tharp. She started at the Statesboro library in November of 2015.
In addition to overseeing the genealogy section, Wingate teaches about three classes a month. She provides help for people researching records and points then in the right direction or assists in finding the answer to their ancestry questions.
The most rewarding aspects of being a librarian for Wingate are “being able to help people find ancestors when they didn’t think they could,” she said.
Wingate has cataloged all the microfilm at the library of newspapers and photos, and when the copyright clearance comes through, she looks forward to sharing them online. She hopes to have a tab on the main website that library card holders can access.
Libraries are essential in giving all citizens access to knowledge. In the digital age, they are needed more than ever before. Get your library card, and you’ll be able to borrow a print or electronic book, use free internet services, trace your history, engage your children, teens and family in exciting activities or attend a course improving your skills. Most importantly, however, visit the library if you want a smart and clear answer to all your questions.