100 years and counting: Change is the constant at the Waynesboro Public Library

waynesboro libraryZahir Mahmoud has been on the staff at the Waynesboro Public Library for 26 years, but he was still a rookie when he was tasked in 1990 with the responsibility of overseeing the library’s move toward automation.

Technology didn’t turn over quite as much then as it does now, and patrons, perhaps not surprisingly, rebelled at first to losing their familiar card catalogues and vertical files filled with clippings on topics of current-events and historical interest.

“People asked us to keep the card catalogue, so we did keep it for about nine months,” said Mahmoud, now the library’s executive director. “But we told folks that we weren’t going to be adding anything new to the catalogue, so they weren’t showing new items.

“Over time, people got used to the new system, and we made the transition. But there was certainly some resistance at first,” said Mahmoud, who has seen a lot in the way of change at the library over the last quarter-century.

The library is marking its centennial year in 2015 with a series of events including a July 14 centennial celebration. The centennial events are “an opportunity for us to highlight our services. It’s also an opportunity for the community to learn that yes, we still are here, that we still provide services that are unique to libraries and unique to our community,” Mahmoud said.

And that has been the case for 100 years and counting. The first library building, located on Walnut Avenue and now a part of the campus at Fishburne Military School, was built in 1915 with help from an $8,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation.

The library had outgrown that space by the 1960s, and the current South Wayne Avenue location opened in 1969, with expansions in 1979 and most recently in 2012.

Even with technological change being the order of the day in 2015, the mission of library services is still the same, said Mahmoud: “meeting the information needs of the community.”

“The format has changed. The traditional services, books and visual materials, is our brand. We circulate books. Books still get checked out at high volume on a regular basis. But we’ve added other dimensions. E-books, e-magazines, they are both used more every day,” Mahmoud said.

And the library plays another central role in the community: as a sort of third place. Community groups and clubs meet on the premises. Others are at the library to take advantage of the high-speed WiFi for personal use. Some are on location to take part in distance learning classes using the WiFi connectivity.

“We are sort of community center in that sense,” Mahmoud said.

The challenge for the staff is similar to the one the young Mahmoud faced 25 years ago: that technology thing.

“Nothing remains constant in the library field these days. Every two, three years, it seems, things are turning over. You have to stay ahead of the curve, and it can be tough to do so. This isn’t just the libraries. Technology is changing across the board. We just try to keep up,” Mahmoud said.

“We always invite recommendations from our community on how we can do our jobs better, how we can improve our services. If there’s something that’s missing, we want to know so that we can investigate and see what can be done to improve what we offer,” Mahmoud said.

– Story by Chris Graham


augusta free press news