L.A. Times

Greetings, Team Library!

Were you among the 32 million people who saw the solar eclipse in full splendor last week? Millions joined together in collective awe everywhere, from sea sides to parking lots, with family and total strangers, to admire Mother Nature’s beauty. And, for at least a brief moment, we were all cheering for the same team. When the Earth, sun, and moon aligned, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “When was the last time so many people gathered to applaud something so wholesome collectively?” There’s no taking sides, no victor or loser, no “for or against” or political agenda…just a genuine appreciation for the Earth’s wonder. How cool is that?

Sure, from a scientific perspective, solar eclipses provide an opportunity for scientists to study the Earth’s atmosphere under uncommon conditions. But, for the rest of us non-scientists, there are some takeaways, too, such as slowing down long enough to be moved by beauty. Live in the moment. Step out of the shadows. Brighter moments are always ahead. Always be looking for the whole picture. And…don’t forget to maintain your sense of humor!

Now, that we’ve had our chuckle, let me give you a brief update on what’s been happening in my world lately. 😊 (Yep, maintain a sense of humor here!)

The FY2025 Budget Request season is winding down. Final requests will be submitted by the April 26 deadline. If you attended Staff Development Day 2023, you would remember my “Books, Bodies, Buildings, and Busses” presentation. Well, due to the continued increase in county demographics, the Library Dept. will be requesting additional staffing to expand further our public service hours (hours that were “compressed” during the Recession) as well as provide staff so we may offer off-site library programming and training out in the community. Many of our residents are transportation challenged, so we can maintain our customer service relationship by taking the Library out to them.

Additionally, I will continue to emphasize the need to sustain and perhaps re-configure our current facilities to improve staff workspace and maximize the efficient “flow” of library service areas for our patrons. Our current facilities range from 20-30+ years old and were designed when fewer patrons used them. Both the footprint and the décor leave much to be desired in the 21st century! I am requesting funds to retain architects to help us plan for future renovations and phase those projects and costs over the next few years.

Mid-year 2024 statisticswere presented to the Library Advisory Board at their April meeting. The April LAB agenda packet includes a copy of those statistics: LAB-Agenda_April-2024-Meeting.pdf (sjcpls.org). I encourage you to check out the stats. You may be surprised at our progress toward our annual goals and activities!

New Libraries are being planned even as I write this! Exciting times ahead for our underserved areas of St. Johns County. Of course, with the excitement comes regular doses of planning, refining that planning, and then finalizing it! Then comes the “fun” of seeing those plans and sketches come to life on the property and “shopping ‘til we drop” for furniture, equipment, collections, and recruiting/training new staff.

If you have followed recent BCC meetings, you know that I am currently working with Parks & Recreation Director Ryan Kane to plan three new library sites within his regional parks. The final proposal is expected to go before the BCC in May 2024, with anticipated construction expected to start this Fall. The parks and library sites will be constructed simultaneously and are expected to be completed within 30 months. Locations include a site in the Greenbrier area, the Shearwater area, and the Nocatee area. Parks and Library will share classroom spaces, outdoor spaces, and staffing partnerships to maximize the community’s return on investment in these projects.

The Mill Creek Library project continues to be suspended while BCC and County Admin review options for the PGA properties in the World Golf Village area. BCC recently approved the purchase of that property with the intent to broker a resale to a party addressing the interests of that WGV neighborhood (as determined by the recent survey). I will keep you updated as the county moves forward with this project.

The Hastings Library is conducting a major “spring cleaning” in preparation for their move into temporary quarters at the W. E. Harris Center later this summer. The temporary space will be in four (4) classrooms, totaling 3200 sf, to be shared between staff, HHS, and our collections! Tight quarters for sure (yep, maintain that sense of humor)! The library will close to the public on Monday, Aug. 5, taking the month of August to move and set up in their temporary location, then re-open to the public on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Construction on the new Hastings Community Center and Library is expected to commence this Fall and be ready to open in late summer 2025.

This is a time of change and quick turnarounds for decisions and direction, and I want to make sure our buildings and services work for our staff as well as they will work for our patrons. There is plenty of opportunity for creativity and innovation regarding future library services and resources. Talk to your co-workers and supervisors, then reach out to me, ask questions, and express your concerns. I’m here to listen and assist however I can. It’s a great time for our libraries, and we are moving forward with a wave of County and community support. Let’s continue that momentum!

Debra Rhodes Gibson

Library System Director, St. Johns County Public Library System

St. Johns County Public Library System