B U S I N E S S + C U LT U R E 69 The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future.” - T. S. Eliot 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. Engaging the Community Willis L. Miller Library a Learning Destination 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. - CELINE GLADWIN