20 years of growing in the books: What Forsyth County Public Library has become
71,000: residents who have library cards
4: library branches in Forsyth County
2.5 million: estimated items circulated in 2017
984,291: physical materials checked out from Sharon Forks Library in 2015
18,000-square-feet: size of expansion in the works at Sharon Forks Library
38: percent program participation increased from 2014 to ‘15
57: percent increase of number of people using Wi-Fi at the library on their own device
FORSYTH COUNTY -- The usual quiet that circulates through libraries was replaced by a buzz of voices and energetic excitement Thursday evening.
More than 70 patrons attended the Forsyth County Public Library’s 20th anniversary celebration, which was held at the Cumming Library Aug. 25.
The event included a tour of the branch, a small ceremony with celebratory remarks and cake cutting and a bilingual story time with Llama Llama, a well-loved children’s book character.
Library Board Chairwoman Mary Helen McGruder opened the ceremony thanking the county’s elected officials for their support of the library system.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Pete Amos was in attendance, as well as District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills.
Library Director Anna Lyle led most of the ceremony, beginning with the library’s history and detailing what, exactly, was being celebrated.
While the first official public library in Forsyth County was opened in 1938, it wasn’t until July 1996 that the FCPL became an independent library system.
“We were part of regional systems — some combination of three different versions of Forsyth, Gwinnett and Dawson Counties,” Lyle said.
In the fall of 1995, the Gwinnett board decided to withdraw from the regional system, which essentially forced Forsyth County to do the same.
The county had a choice to make: join another regional system, or attempt to go it alone and create its own library system.
“Things were already starting to change in Forsyth,” Lyle said. “So, the commission stepped up and provided the funding, and the library board at that time and the newly hired director Jon McDaniel, they stepped up and they started creating the infrastructure that led to the library system we have today.”
And they never looked back.
A flourishing system
Since ’96, the library system has flourished. The FCPL now has four locations: Cumming, Hampton Park, Post Road and Sharon Forks, all of which made the 2016 top 50 list of busiest libraries in Georgia.
Sharon Forks Library was named the busiest in the state, with patrons checking out 984,291 physical materials in the 2015 fiscal year — 300,000 more books magazines, CDs and DVDs than the library with the next-highest circulation, according to data from the Georgia Public Library Service.
And more than 2.5 million items were circulated throughout all four branches last year alone, McGruder said.
But the FCPL’s greatest achievement, she said, is its successful transition from print books to the digital age.
Lyle agreed that the library has successfully kept up with the demands of modernization, but she said she still finds that patrons consistently want physical books, newspapers and magazines.
“We are prepared for the decline of print and lots of libraries, academic and otherwise, have really focused on those collaborative learning spaces, and we’ve done that with our newer locations,” she said, “but we’re still finding this veracious appetite for print materials.
“A lot of the library literature talks about how to stay relevant, but here, people really want the traditional services, so I really don’t know what it would take to [change] that.”
Lyle did tout the FCPL’s technological advancements, however.
“We got a grant through the Library Services and Technology Act [that] allowed us to buy $15,000 worth of STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — technologies,” Lyle said.
The hope is, with these technologies at their fingertips, Georgia’s children will excel in school where STEAM is being implemented.
A growing community center
But the library is about more than just learning, Lyle said. It’s a community experience.
“You don’t have to be coming here to have a big cerebral experience,” she said. “You can just come here because you like to read or you want to hang out and have a nice space. Libraries are much more community focused than they used to be.”
FCPL’s next big event will be its ninth annual Forsyth Reads Together. This year, the event features bestselling author, screenwriter and television producer Dennis Lehane.
Lehane, best known for his books “Shutter Island” and Mystic River,” will speak and sign books at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
For more information and to register for the event, visit forsythpl.org.