It took a while longer than expected, but Dalton's public library reopened today after renovations to rave reviews from patrons.
"It looks nice, there's a lot of new stuff," said Christopher Gomez, leaving the library with his son Jose.
Lynn Morrisey said she felt the building was more spacious, in part because the shelves have been lowered. "There's room to sit down and relax," she said.
And Amy Harrison, visiting with her seven-month-old son James, noticed the new ceiling tiles and carpet.
Actually, it is not carpet, said Dr. Howard Elder, the former head of research and environmental affairs at J&J Industries, one of Dalton's largest carpet companies. Elder helped develop the product, called Kinetex, which combines plastics and woven fabric into a long-lasting, stain-resistant flooring, and he and his wife stopped by the library Monday to see how it looked on the floor.
The colorful flooring is one of the most noticeable aspects of the renovated space. But the other highlight is space itself, lots of it. The top and bottom shelves of the main bookshelves were removed, lowering them to the point where most patrons can see across their tops to the broad window letting in sunlight on one side of the library.
Shelves are bunched on two sides of the room and, for the first time, librarians went through their collection and got rid of duplicate books and titles they felt were no longer worth keeping.
That left large open spaces in the middle of the main floor where patrons can sit or the library can host events such as book readings or yoga classes.
"We're really excited about the new common area," said Darla Chambliss, director of the Northwest Georgia Regional Library system that includes Dalton, Chatsworth and Calhoun facilities. "But we're in the baby step stages," she said, in figuring out how to use the space.
For the first time, the library has a teen library and a teen librarian, including bean bag chairs and a large screen where younger patrons can play video games.
The computer facilities also are getting an upgrade, although everything is not yet in place. Chambliss has plans to loan out laptops and iPads to patrons. "We have a huge community here with no Internet access," she said, "and yet the schools request that students use it. [Students without web access] can come here to the library to do that, but we hope to be able to loan out laptops [and wi-fi hot spots] so they can do it at home."
The basement includes a huge room where the Friends of the Library group can sort donations and display books for its monthly book sale, which raises funds to help the library purchase new books. Buying those books is a big expense. The library spends about $60,000 annually, and each physical book costs about $35 to purchase, wrap in a mylar covering, catalogue and put on the shelves. Electronic books are even more expensive, running $40 to $80 for a license allowing patrons to access them 26 times on average, before the license expires.
But the main focus on the bottom floor is on an enlarged space for classrooms the library uses for its workforce development programs. Nearly 30 classes are offered every month to people interested in learning how to use basic business software such as Microsoft Word and Excel, or set up a Facebook page including security considerations. But there also are more advanced applications — Chambliss shows off the basement classroom's 3-D printer, that allows patrons to use 3-D modeling software on a computer to create an object and then print it out in plastic.
"Our mission is to get technology into the hands of Georgia citizens," she said.
The library isn't forgetting its past either. Plans for the second and third phase of renovations include a Georgia History Collection and material to help local residents with genealogical research.
Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 423-757-6673, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP, and on Facebook, stevejohnsonTFP.