Engaging the Community: Willis L. Miller Library a Learning Destination



“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future.” –T. S. Eliot



Sophia Moates is enjoying the new children’s area at the Willis L. Miller Library.

As children and adults enter the new Willis L. Miller Library in Valdosta, they quickly realize the 34,000-square-foot facility represents more of an experience than a destination.

“We want people to come and stay for a while,” said Miguel Vicente, director of the South Georgia Regional Library (SGRL) System. “We don’t want them to just come and get a book and leave.”

Celine Gladwin, a partner with BFB Gladwin Architects, echoes Vicente’s sentiments that the library was designed to be more than a depository of books.

“We looked at the new building as a learning resource center,” Gladwin said. “This is a place to come and learn, no matter what age. It is also a place where you connect with people. It is truly a library for the 21st century.”

Adapting to this shift in the library’s overall purpose, Gladwin’s design goal was to reimagine the library as an engaged community center.

The design process started in 2015 with a series of focus groups, where children, teens, and adults were asked to provide their ideas on what features and services they wanted to be included in the community’s newest library.

“The way we approached the design was that the library is truly the only facility in our community that is open for all ages and everyone is welcome,” said Gladwin, who also designed the interior renovations of the Valdosta State University Odum Library. “It was essential as we started the design process that we knew what members of the community wanted since they are the people who will be using the library.”

Gladwin said the focus groups culminated with a public charrette, which was an activity focused on design and planning.

“During the charrette, the group gave ideas that helped us designed the facility,” Gladwin said. “We had three different concepts that emerged during the charrette, and the final design of the library is directly linked to one of those concepts. We listened, took the input, and now have a building that is very much a community library.”

As one of six libraries within the SGRL System, the new Willis L. Miller Library replaces the existing library that was located on Woodrow Wilson Drive, in Valdosta and was constructed 1968 and had an expansion in 1995.

S.C. Barker Construction began renovations on the new library, located at 2906 Julia Drive, in June 2017.

With an initial budget of $3.5 million, which included $1.5 million from SPLOST and a $2 million from a Georgia Public Library Service grant, the library also received a boost in funding from Willis L. “Wyn” Miller, a lifelong resident of Valdosta and an advocate for public libraries.

A previous chairman of the SGRL board of trustees, Miller and his family have a long history of supporting the mission of libraries throughout South Georgia. In the 1980s, Miller’s father, Willis Miller Jr., dedicated land in Lakeland, Georgia to build a library, which was named in his honor.

Celine Gladwin, partner with BFB Gladwin Architects

Sit Quietly No Longer

With its huge glass windows and entrance doors, visitors step into the lobby and are immediately surrounded by the creative work of local artists and the smell of freshly roasted coffee.

As a place for the people to gather and connect, the SGRL System has partnered with a local coffee company to provide a fresh assortment of coffee, tea, and light snacks. Visitors can sit and enjoy their beverage and snacks in the library café, which features a display of local artwork provided by the Turner Center for the Arts.

The popular Friends of the Library Bookstore, which was housed in a back room at the former library, is now in plain view to visitors entering the lobby area. Managed by a group of dedicated volunteers, The Friends of the Library Bookstore accepts donated books that are then resold to raise money to support the SGRL System.

“When you enter the library from the lobby you come into the central space,” Gladwin explained. “This is the energized area where there is a lot of activity at the information desk and computer stations.”

Gladwin said “it was loud and clear” from the focus groups that library visitors did not want a place where they would have to sit and be quiet.

“They didn’t want someone walking around and ‘shushing’ them and telling them to sit down,” she said. “They wanted meeting space, common areas, as well as a place to have a cup of coffee and interact with others.”

While the new library has more interactive spaces, the traditional reading areas, which still remain quiet, provide the perfect spot for sitting and reading a book or magazine.

Separate areas for children and teens was a must have in the new library design.

“We were very conscious of the space and what they each represent,” Gladwin said. “We put the children and teen areas up front where it is clearly visible from the information desk.”

Miquel Vincente, director of the South Georgia Regional Library System

There are computer stations for adults, children and teens, a 3-D printer within the maker space, classrooms for educational and art activities, microfilm facilities, and numerous meeting rooms available by reservation.

To handle the increased volume of visitors and expanded technology options, the new library has 1-Gigabit internet connection to provide visitors with high-speed data, including Wi-Fi throughout the library.

Vicente said the services provided by the library goes beyond the building.

“We have more than 60,000 books on the shelves in this library,” Vicente said, “but through the Georgia Public Library Service people have access to more than 10 million books.”

The Georgia Library PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services) is a statewide lending system that creates a “borderless library,” where library cardholders have access to books and materials that can be delivered to their local library free of charge.

The PINES library card also provides free access to eBooks, audiobooks, foreign language courses, artistic work, use of an ancestry database, tutoring services, and much more.

“The library is more than information, it is an active experience,” Vicente said. “It is a place where families can come and experience something educational and entertaining.”

For more information: https://sgrl.org/

















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