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PERHAPS NO library in the country tends to the needs of its constituents more consistently and meticulously than the Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL). The library staff's unwavering service mentality coupled with its ability to thrive in the face of two major controversies that might have altogether fractured other systems, are two of the main reasons why GCPL is the 2000 Library Journal/Gale Group Library of the Year.
In a manner similar to county namesake Button Gwinnett, GCPL has been able to prosper amid intense political acrimony and despite a number of fierce critics. An Englishman, Gwinnett settled in Georgia in 1765 at the age of 30. He tried his hand as a farmer but after a short time found his calling in politics. His rise to power culminated in his election to the Continental Congress and subsequent signing of the Declaration of Independence. The library's similarities with Gwinnett end there: While GCPL's ideological battles have made it a stronger, more versatile system, Button Gwinnett's failure to learn from the political tumult he often initiated brought an abrupt end to his life at age 42 in a gun duel with a bitter rival.
Both of the library's penultimate tests, a scathing two-year battle with the conservative right over who would lay claim to the library's soul--its book collection--and the unsettling and logistically challenging division of the regional library into three separate library districts, overlapped during a period spanning 1995-98. However, its intellectual freedom battles and system reorganization should not obfuscate the strength of GCPL and its worthiness as Library of the Year for 2000. Few peers can match GCPL's service-at-any-cost commitment to reach deep into its communities to tend to the recreational reading, information, and education needs of its patron base.
Modest budget, wealth of programs
GCPL Director Jo Ann Pinder and staff have accomplished the feat of offering a stunning array of programs targeting several cross-sections of citizenry, with a modest per capita funding figure of $24.25--still nearly $10 above the state average--and an annual FY00 budget of roughly $13 million. They blanketed one of Gwinnett's fastest growing library segments, children, with more than 1000 programs in FY99. GCPL's poetry celebrations and reading programs drew nearly 37,000 kids to the library's nine branches. Other innovative programs include an online workshop to introduce senior citizens to Internet resources and technology and an initiative to guide collegebound high school seniors to web-based resources for college preparatory information on financial aid and admissions testing.
GCPL also admirably fulfills its role as the community's intellectual center both at its branches and in an outreach capacity, offering programs on volunteerism, working with a local healthcare provider to foster breast cancer awareness and provide materials on the subject, and promoting …