Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) is pleased to announce that the Athens Regional Library System has been selected as Georgia’s Public Library of the Year. The award is one of five annual Georgia Public Library Awards, honoring the outstanding service and achievements of Georgia’s public libraries, librarians and advocates during the past year.
“It is once again our pleasure to recognize library colleagues and supporters who have made Georgia’s public libraries exceptional. This year’s winners of the Georgia Public Library Awards demonstrate the very best in innovation, community engagement, and tireless dedication to serving the citizens of our state, playing a vital role in creating a more educated, enlightened Georgia,” said State Librarian Julie Walker.
The Public Library of the Year award, presented to the library whose staff best exemplifies the qualities needed to positively impact the lives of residents in the communities it serves, will be presented to the Athens Regional Library System and its employees at a 3 p.m. ceremony at Athens-Clarke County Library on Sunday, Jan. 21.
“I am beyond proud of our library staff. It is such an amazing honor to be recognized for the hard work we do every day in each of our branches,” said Athens Regional Library System Executive Director Valerie Bell. “Every single one of our employees has played an instrumental role in winning this award. This is a beautiful tribute to staff’s commitment to our vision statement, ‘Engaging Communities … Exceeding Expectations.’ I’d also like to say a special thank you to the many community partners and patrons who wrote letters of support for our nomination.”
The Athens Regional Library System is the first multi-county library system to be recognized as Georgia’s Public Library of the Year. The system serves residents in five northeast Georgia counties – Clarke, Franklin, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe – at 11 branches with a combination of innovative technology and friendly customer service.
Georgia’s Public Library Champion of the Year award is presented to an outstanding advocate who was not employed in any capacity by a public library but whose support significantly raised the profile of libraries and improved services during the year. This year, GPLS is recognizing the Appropriation Chairs of the Georgia General Assembly: Rep. Terry England and Sen. Jack Hill.
“Georgia’s public libraries enjoy strong state support for library construction, major repair and renovation projects, library materials and essential, updated technology,” stated Walker. “Our Champions have led the effort to ensure that libraries have the resources they need and that every county in Georgia receives top-quality library service.”
“Libraries are places of learning that help build up our communities across the state. By supporting every Georgia public library at the state level, every Georgian can take advantage of award-winning, nationally recognized services, like PINES and GALILEO,” said Chairman England. “I am honored to share this recognition with Sen. Jack Hill, whose partnership has allowed the General Assembly to do many things for our citizens.”
“I believe libraries are the center of life in every community and play a key role in the ‘whole life’ education of our children and adults,” said Chairman Hill. “The libraries in virtually every community give an opportunity for children to learn about the world and provide adults that internet link to services and information along with reading materials and all of the other activities. I am honored to share this very meaningful recognition with a fine public servant, Chairman Terry England.”
Carolyn Fuller will be recognized as Librarian of the Year, an award that recognizes a full-time and professionally licensed public librarian whose innovative and creative talents are instrumental in the delivery of outstanding library service to his or her library and to the communities it serves. The long-serving director of the Henry County Library System says, “It has been a joy and an adventure to work in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. I have always had a great staff with which to work, and we have loved bringing great resources to the people in Henry County.” During her 18-year tenure she oversaw the construction of all five of the public libraries in Henry County.
For the first time, GPLS has named a Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Stephen Whigham has worked in libraries since 1979, serving as director of the Ocmulgee Regional Library System from 2005-2012. Beginning in 2014, he has filled the role of interim director at six different library systems across the state, including: Twin Lakes Library, Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Library, Northwest Georgia Regional Library, Catoosa County Library, Ohoopee Regional Library System, and most recently, Live Oak Public Libraries. In each of these situations, he has cultivated a culture of trust, respect and service, providing professional and effective leadership during times of change.
“I am always honored to work in Georgia’s various public library systems. It has been my good fortune to work with great public library staff members in a variety of Georgia locations,” said Whigham. “Each assignment brought new challenges and new professional friendships. My deepest compliments go out to all of them and my gratitude as well.
“Georgia citizens are fortunate to boast one of the most organized and well-supported library systems in the country. That honor goes right back to the Georgia Public Library Service and its staff members, to the legislators and local governments and institutions supporting our public libraries, and to our fine citizens who encourage us in our work,” stated Whigham.
This year’s winners will be recognized at a ceremony during the Georgia Council for Public Libraries’ annual Public Library Day at the Capitol on Jan. 30 and at individual ceremonies across the state.
Nominations for this year’s GPLS-sponsored awards were submitted from public library directors and trustees, and members of recognized Friends of the Library groups. Collectively, GPLS received more than three dozen nominations from every corner of the state.