Denise Etheridge Column Teaser

After more than a year of sometimes contentious debate, a majority of the Loganville City Council members finally voted last week to support the Azalea Regional Library System’s intent to apply for a $3 million state grant to build a new O’Kelly Memorial Library in a different location.

City Councilwoman Melanie Long voted her conscience and was the lone nay vote against the council’s resolution to commit $1.5 million toward the project. In addition, Long’s fellow City Council members agreed to provide city land downtown for the new library. A specific location has not yet been determined.

Long made it clear she is a library patron and supports the library in its current location. She questioned pledging money to a project that, in her opinion, is risky at a time when the country could be headed for a recession.

However, like the majority of the City Council I agree that some risks are worth taking.

Several residents spoke up during a community comment period which was held after the meeting adjourned.

Some citizens thanked the City Council for supporting a new library.

One resident who volunteers at the library said she has met numerous young families who say the library was one of the factors that enticed them to move to the area.

Other residents were angry and loudly vocalized their displeasure with the City Council’s decision.

One woman claimed that, like her, most Loganville residents don’t want a new library.

I disagree. I believe there is a quiet majority of folks in the Loganville community who do support the construction of a new, expanded library in a location that allows for easier and safer access. (Remember, the Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to take away an entrance and a significant number of the current library’s parking spaces when it starts a road improvement project to help ease a bit of Loganville’s chronic traffic woes.)

I also think many people, like me, have been assisted by their local library at various turning points in their lives.

When I was unemployed and looking for work, but didn’t have computer access at home, the library was there for me. When my children were small and their father was deployed by the military to hazardous places in the world, the library offered us a safe and cost-effective place for learning and entertainment.

Therefore, the value of a local library can be hard to measure. Or is it?

According to a recent study by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Georgia’s 408 public libraries provided an economic impact of over $170 million annually. The same study found that the state’s libraries provided Georgians $562.1 million in social benefits.

Furthermore, for every dollar given to libraries, society gets a $3.21 return in goods and services, according to the Carl Vinson study.

Now, I know there are challenges facing libraries today. The cost of adequately staffing and operating libraries is an issue. But libraries are like most employers today, be they small businesses or other public entities. All are are attempting to provide workers higher wages to recruit and retain dedicated employees.

The point is, despite life’s unexpected obstacles our local libraries are a valuable resource. And they’ve been honored for innovative programs.

Our regional library system, AZRLS, was named the 2021 Library of the Year for services they provided to the community during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The O’Kelly Memorial Library in Loganville partnered with Lady Butterflies and Claudine’s Closet to feed families and further literacy last year. Claudine’s Closet provided 300 backpacks, 150 masks and 400 meals to families. Along with food to provide physical nourishment, this library program also gave out books to nourish the mind.

Afterall, if the library exists to serve the community, shouldn’t the community step up to support the library? I think so.

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The Walton Tribune. Her email address is

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