I wrote an analysis of the community surrounding the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries in Columbus, GA. This was originally written for my Intro to Management of Libraries class in the Summer of 2017.
Part A: Community Analysis
Columbus Public Library serves the city of Columbus and Muscogee County in Georgia. Once an industrial mill town, Columbus has modernized and transformed into Georgia’s second largest city. It is now the home of major corporate headquarters, the Fort Benning Army Reserve, sprawling suburbs, and revitalized neighborhoods. Although Columbus Public Library (CPL) is just one building, it is the flagship branch that represents the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries (CVL) system as a whole. CVL serves Muscogee County through four branches, as well as three branches in three adjacent counties. Meeting the needs of such a vast and diverse region is one of the many challenges that the library administration faces.
Columbus is like many mid-to-large-size American cities. It hosts a variety of neighborhoods, employers, and institutions. The largest employer for the region is Fort Benning Army Reserve. According to the Consolidated Government of Columbus’ Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Fort Benning holds 25.5% of all employment for the city (2016, p. 170). Muscogee County School District is a distant second with 4%. The city is headquarters to two major corporations, TSYS and AFLAC, Inc., each of whom hold 2.9% and 2.3% respectively. One of the largest industries in Columbus is health care. 4.8% of all employment is held by the three largest health providers combined, Columbus Regional Healthcare System, St. Francis Hospital, Inc., and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia.
There are many cultural centers in the area. Museums include the Columbus Museum, the National Civil War Naval Museum, the National Infantry Museum, and the Coca-Cola Space Science Center. The Springer Opera House and the RiverCenter are both areas for performing arts. The Columbus Civic Center provides a stadium for hockey games and local conventions.
For recreation, the city has sixty distinct parks, which include walking and biking trails. The Chattahoochee River is also a large attraction for outdoor lovers. Residents can go fishing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Lake Harding is nearby for more water activities, and local dive shops take customers to the lake for scuba diving.
Although this describes Columbus and Muscogee County as a whole, the area immediately surrounding Columbus Public Library is different. Once a suburb on the outskirts of Columbus, urban expansion has shifted CPL close to the city’s geographic center. Artifacts of old urban planning prevail today. Although Columbus has dozens of parks, none of them are near CPL. Arterial roads cut through the area, sharply dividing low-density neighborhoods. Parking lots and strip malls dot the landscape. These roads and commercial properties create boundaries between affluent and low-income neighborhoods. CPL itself rests on a piece of land that was once a shopping mall decades ago, but is now publicly owned. This land is shared with not just the library, but the Citizen Service Center, the school district office, and a new recreation center.
According to the American Community Survey 2015 Five-Year Estimates, Muscogee County is home to 200,285 people, 21,674 of whom live in CPL’s zip code, 31906 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). The population demographics are generally average to America, but they have a few distinct traits. While age and education are almost exactly in line with the nation as a whole, race is significantly different. Nearly everyone in Muscogee County is either African-American or White, and there is almost an even split between the two, 45.5% to 46.3%. In the 31906 zip code, it changes even more drastically, where 67.8% is African-American and 27.8% is white. Muscogee County is poorer than the United States on average. The median income here is $42,306 per year, compared to $53,889 nationally. Unemployment is higher as well. It is 11.0%, when the national number is 8.3%. Unsurprisingly, poverty rates were also higher, 20.5% compared to 15.5%.
The picture changes closer to CPL. Within the 31906 zip code, the median income lowers to $33,408 per year. Unemployment rises to 13.6%, and 27.1% of the population lives below the poverty line. These financial differences illustrate the unique slice of population which CPL, as a branch, must work to specifically serve.
Part B: Library Analysis
The Muscogee County Library Board states, “our mission is to be your place, your partner, your library.” Their vision statement is, “through reading and discovery we improve our community’s quality of life.” (2017b) The emphasis on community and partnerships indicates a priority to for the library’s administration to sell itself as a valuable asset to the areas in and around Muscogee County.
The Library Board’s values are service, passion, inclusion, and community (2017b), and they elaborate for each:
Service – we believe that enthusiastic, well-trained staff are essential to meeting community needs
Passion – we seek to deliver our service with heart, and to share the joy of reading and discovery
Inclusion – we want our community to feel welcome, and our staffing to reflect our community
Community – we strive to know who we are here to serve, where we are needed most, and how we can provide access for all
Muscogee County Library Board. (2017). Vision, mission & values. Retrieved from http://www.cvlga.org/vision-mission-values/
Each of the values focuses equally on their staff and community, even intertwining them, as is the case in their "inclusion" statement. A lot of the descriptions chosen are emotional, which reflects a belief that fostering a positive attitude is essential to the library's success. One last notable feature of these values is the sense that the library is a work in progress, that the administration and staff is still learning to know who they are here to serve, and how to serve them.
The Muscogee County Library Board released a new strategic plan this year, which will go into effect in 2018 and last through 2020. Their five goals are awareness, early literacy, student success, discovery, and economic development (2017a). They describe awareness in terms of marketing the library to the public, making the library more aware of its community, and increasing staff awareness of library resources. Early literacy has been, and will continue to be, a major pillar of the library's goals. They specify using literacy to fill gaps in education and to target at-risk children in the community. Student success is the most straightforward of the goals, and also the broadest in terms of the number of ways that the library can potentially assist students. Discovery is about the library discovering new programming opportunities and expanding their capacity for new users. Finally, economic development may seem like one of the goals least associated with a library, but it fits in very neatly with what the library does. This goal includes assisting job seekers, providing a place for people to work, providing access to resources necessary for business and growth, and breaking the cycle of poverty through education.
Columbus Public Library is, by far, the largest branch of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries system. They employ 78 people, including administration, which is 66% of the 119 total throughout all of the branches (CVL Intranet, 2017). The smallest branch, by contrast, has only two, a manager and an assistant. Within CPL, circulation, technical service, children, teen, and adult departments all have their own department heads or coordinators. There is also a librarian for the children, teen, and adult departments. The most common job title throughout the system is library assistant. Of CPL's administration, who oversee all branches, there are eleven people, each with their own titles. The administration includes the director, deputy director, personnel assistant, finance director, program director, and their assistants.
The Chattahoochee Valley Libraries system maintains its own collection, which is shared between all branches within the system. According to Aarant’s ILS report, the current breakdown of the collection is as follows (2017):
180,530 books, 61% of which are in CPL. 12,929 DVDs, 67% of which are in CPL. 8,605 books on CD, 58% of which are in CPL. 6,234 CDs, 57% of which are at CPL. 249 magazines, 68% of which are in CPL. 20 newspapers at CPL, which do not circulate. 9585 local history and genealogy books, all of which are housed at CPL. 9,020 e-books & audiobooks served through the Overdrive, CloudLibrary, and RBDigital companies. 12 million songs offered through Freegal. 4,360 comic book titles offered through Comics Plus. 324 magazines offered through RBDigital, not including back issues. 224 databases offered through Galileo, including legal forms, journals, e-books, and audiobooks.
Columbus Public Library has seventy-eight public computers total. That includes twelve for teens, twelve for children, and two accessible computers for users with visual or mobile impairments. Any member of the public may freely use a computer for up to three hours per day, or use a library card to check out a laptop for in-house use for three hours. The library also offers free Wi-Fi for everyone, even after library hours. In addition to internet access, the CPL offers multiple technologies for in-house use or to check out, including tablets for children, various STEAM kits, and GoPro cameras.
All staff are encouraged to help put on programs. Beginning in 2018, programs must line up with the strategic plan and values. Currently, the adult services department offers board games, computer classes, dungeons and dragons, a chess club, arts and crafts, and nonprofit grant funding resources. The children department offers crafts, music, story times, LEGO building, and multicultural education. The teen department has manga and anime clubs, video games, and tech labs that use STEAM kits. There are also two large, annual programs. One is FanFest, CPL's "con" event for all ages. The second is a children's book festival.
Part C: Summary - SWOT Analysis
CVL has a lot of financial support from Muscogee County School District (MCSD), and they receive funding from local sponsors, including AFLAC, Inc. Because of these, they are able to maintain their own collection, instead of using the PINES system, as well as have flexibility for programming opportunities. The community in Columbus has, overall, been enthusiastic and supportive of everything the library does.
CVL's size can be as much of a weakness as it is a strength. Serving such a large and diverse area leads to challenges and complications. In addition, there are frequently asynchronous policies between branches and departments, and a lack of cohesive branding between branches. Much of this is currently addressed through the new strategic plan. Another weakness is that staff tends to have homogenous interests and skills, and their demographics are different than the community's. This can be improved through improved hiring processes.
CVL is planning on building a new branch to expand service, which will bring in new customers and new staff. Many of the staff use CVL as a stepping stone in their career, so there are often new positions opening and new faces. The new strategic plan will allow the staff to focus their creativity on programming that will benefit the library. Building renovations are planned, which can also be used to improve service.
As with most libraries around the country, the expansion of free and cheap online services competes with their resources. According to director Alan Harkness, CVL's circulation statistics have gone down two percent (personal communication, January, 2017), which he says is in line with libraries around the country. CPL is located beside an arterial roadway, so users without cars, or who have special transportation needs, may have difficulty entering the library.
Although I always had personal knowledge about my community and my library, investigating hard data opened my perspective to the many complex forces that the library must work with and, sometimes, work against. Demographics such as income and poverty, especially in contrast of different areas, highlight the specific community needs that the library must serve. Additionally, looking at the exact distribution of staffing among departments and branches, as well as their range of programming, illustrated exactly how effectively the library operates in response to the needs of the community. By critically analyzing documents such as the strategic plan, I can better understand the administration’s thinking when it comes to tackling their SWOT factors over the next few years. I hope that this will aid my own judgment when I need to make plans and decisions in my career.
- Aarant, M. (2017). [Polaris ILS Report]. Unpublished raw data.
- Consolidated Government of Columbus, Georgia. (2016). Comprehensive annual financial report. Retrieved from http://www.columbusga.org/finance/Accounting_Docs/CAFR_FY16.pdf
- Muscogee County Library Board. (2017). Strategic plan goals. Retrieved from http://www.cvlga.org/strategic-plan-goals/
- Muscogee County Library Board. (2017). Vision, mission & values. Retrieved from http://www.cvlga.org/vision-mission-values/
- U.S. Census Bureau (2017). 2011-2015 American community survey 5-year estimates [Database]. Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF