Sigmund Hudson, along with his wife Anne, have been volunteers with the Friends of the Library for several years. The support group helps with many projects including the semiannual large book sales.
"We sort several thousand books into about 15 categories," he notes. "We work the sale itself, helping count books, check people out. We do the same at author book signings."
The group also assists in the planning of the annual gala and mans the information tent at the Children's Book Festival. When asked why he chooses to give his time to the library he recalls his own childhood in Memphis.
"As a young kid, we always lived within a bicycle ride of the branch. As a teenager, I would catch the city bus and make three stops: the five and dime store, the magic store and the branch library. It overlooked the Mississippi River and it was a quiet place in the very busy city. When we moved to Savannah, we bought a house near the Bull Street branch and my two sons continued the tradition of riding their bikes to the library."
By the numbers
They are not alone in their enthusiasm for the Live Oak Public Libraries. In FY10 (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010) their circulation was just under 2 million (up 19.5% from FY09) and their visits were up 4.5% to more than 1.5 million; that from a population of about 400,000 in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty Counties.
35,000 of them attended the Children's Book Festival on November 13, a special annual event with authors, illustrators, storytellers, crafts, food tents and more. In FY10 alone, there were 1761 children's events in 17 of the 18 branches, including the Summer Reading Program, weekly book readings, storytelling, art contests and game nights.
One of the 12,811 children registered in the Summer Reading Program is Thomas Bordeaux, 8, a student at Charles Ellis. He goes to the library at least once a week.
"Recently, I found some good books," he said, "called ‘Loud Boy', and I learned some new words, like ‘repel'." His favorites are comics and construction books.
His mother, Nelle, says the unsung heroes are the librarians in the children's section. "They don't just read the books aloud," she explains. "They act, sing, bring them alive. They know many of the children by name and are masters at gently guiding them to new books."
Return on Investment
• About $34 of taxes from each citizen goes to library funding - comparable to one hardcover, new release book. The average library user checks out seven books a year.
• Literacy has a dramatic impact on local demographics including crime, poverty and health.
• Two-thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by 4th grade will be in jail or on welfare.
• A Department of Justice report notes, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." More than 70% of U.S. prison inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
• The low literacy level costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs to America. A recent study by Pfizer estimated the cost to be higher.
Clearly, a great library system is worth its weight in books. Any one of these statistics proves its value far beyond the price tag.
Yet, Live Oak Public Libraries experienced a 2.8% drop in funding in FY10, and another 4.5% drop for FY11 budgets.
Compared to similar libraries (same number of branches, similar demographic served), Live Oak Public Libraries receives an average of only two-thirds the amount of funding.
At the same time, public demand for library use is up, not only for books, but for internet usage, job searches, and an ever-growing list of various media.
Library Director Christian Kruse notes, "Our materials budget is smaller than it has been in the past. This is compounded by the fact that circulation continues to soar and there are now more formats to buy in than ever before. Aside from the traditional print versions: hardcover, paperback, magazine and large print, we are now asked about eBooks which come in a variety of formats also!" Not to mention mp3s downloads and DVDs.
Geeks and Cowboys
Live Oak Public Libraries was one of two pilot sites in the country chosen for the nationwide Geek the Library Campaign. Kruse says it is too early to know the full effect of the campaign, but, "On the whole, I think the campaign had a positive effect because people were talking about libraries. Whether there will be a longer-term effect that includes increased funding is yet to be seen."
But what does the staff Geek? "Right now we all Geek Westerns!" He adds, "Some Geek Western Movies; some Geek Western novels; some Geek Western Art... Can you see a theme?" He's referring to the annual gala fundraiser for LOPL Foundation. This year's genre-based theme is "Wanted: Read or Alive. A Celebration of Westerns."
In addition to a vast silent auction, an iPad raffle and Western style entertainment, there is an open bar, full dinner, desserts, and a prize for the best cowboy boots worn by a guest. A portion of the $100 ticket for the event on January 21 is, of course, tax-deductible.
Other ways to help
If you don't have the budget to attend a gala, there are still plenty of ways to give to the library. For just $25, you can "Adopt a Book." Dedicate a favorite novel to a friend or in memory of a relative. Attend one of the book sales, or donate gently used books for them to sell.
When my husband and I got married, instead of giving our guests party favors, we made a donation to Live Oak Public Libraries, and asked our guests to bring gently used books. We were able to give three boxes of books to the library. You can also volunteer your time to anything from large annual events to helping catalog and sort in the circulation department.
The sunny side
It can seem daunting, but the staff of LOPL manages to not get mired down.
Kruse says, "We - everyone at the library - have stories of why we come to work each and every day. Sometimes it's the simple things: helping someone find the book they want when all they know is the author's first name and that the cover was blue. Don't laugh, it happens all the time!
"Other days it's about making a connection: a shy child doesn't like books because he's embarrassed with his reading skills until he's introduced to one of our reading dogs and reads to the dog a few times and completely connects to reading," he says.
"And then, on those more rare occasions it's about transformation: helping someone with a resume and job leads only to later find out that your work enabled them to get that job," he says. "Or finding information on a disease that someone has just been diagnosed with and helping them educate themselves so that they are a little less scared of their new reality."
Visit www.liveoakpl.org for more info about the gala and how to volunteer. Also check out in2books.org and roycelearningcenter.com for further opportunities.