Georgia Public Library Service announces annual public library award winners

Awards honor the outstanding achievements of public libraries, librarians and advocates. This year, we celebrate the Azalea Regional Library System; Senator Blake Tillery; David Singleton, former executive director of Live Oak Public Libraries; and Natorra Moody, branch manager at the Alma-Bacon County Public Library.

January 10, 2022
CONTACT: Deborah Hakes, Georgia Public Library Service, dhakes@georgialibraries.org

ATLANTA –Georgia Public Library Service is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Georgia Public Library Awards, which honor public libraries and their champions that have made a profound difference in their communities.

“I’m so proud of our library staff and supporters across the state who found new ways to bring library services into their communities, champion library funding, and help patrons access books, resources, internet, and so much more,” said Georgia State Librarian and Associate Vice Chancellor for Libraries Julie Walker. 

Award winners are selected from nominations submitted by library patrons, trustees, Friends of Library groups, and staff, showcasing the best and brightest who serve in public libraries throughout the state. This year marked the most nominations ever received, reflecting the significant impact libraries have had in their communities.

Azalea Regional Library System has been awarded Library of the Year; David Singleton of Live Oak Public Libraries is Library Director of the Year; Senator Blake Tillery of Senate District 19 is Library Champion of the Year; and Natorra Moody, branch manager at Alma-Bacon County Public Library, is Library Employee of the Year.

These award winners will be celebrated at local ceremonies in early 2022. Contact each library for further information. 

LIBRARY OF THE YEAR

The Azalea Regional Library System has been recognized as Library of the Year for their programming and services that demonstrate knowledge and care for their communities. 

With a regional headquarters building located in Madison, Georgia, the system’s nine member libraries serve around 175,000 residents throughout diverse and unique communities in Greene, Hancock, Jasper, Morgan, Putnam, and Walton counties.

“Azalea Regional Library System is extremely honored to be selected as Georgia’s Public Library of the Year,” said  AZRLS Executive Director Stacy Brown. “So many people work together to support and promote our libraries, and this achievement would not be possible without the collective hard work, commitment, and heart for service demonstrated by our incredible staff, volunteers, and Trustees. We also appreciate our dedicated and supportive patrons, Friends of the Library groups, local funding agencies, and community partners. This recognition of our important work is a great accomplishment and one for which we can all be proud.”

Despite pandemic limitations, Azalea Regional Library System reimagined its services and programs during COVID-19, obtaining grants and launching new services in communities that could otherwise not afford them. Some of those include: 

  • Launching the PLAY student library card in five of their six counties. Working through the Georgia Public Library Service, Azalea Regional Library System has given out more than 22,000 PINES Library Access for Youth (PLAY) cards so far. The PLAY card provides students with access to both physical and digital library materials, such as OverDrive and the Libby App, eRead Kids and GALILEO. Students can check out as many as five items at a time, and there are no late fees. PLAY also allows access directly from the classroom and teachers have the ability to utilize and incorporate library resources into their curriculum.
  • Starting a Technology Lending Program to meet growing patron remote work and learning needs. Utilizing a Libraries Without Walls Tech Innovation Grant from Georgia Public Library Service, patrons can check out Chromebooks, Launchpads that are preloaded with learning apps, videos, and read-alongs for all ages, hotspots, and Osmos, which turns a tablet into a learning device for kids. Through these devices patrons can learn a new language or how to start a small business, enjoy story times, watch cooking demonstrations, explore math, science, and history, and much more. 
  • Growing pandemic services into permanent ways to serve patrons. Azalea’s curbside book pickup system, launched when libraries were closed due to the statewide shutdown, is now permanent. The service includes an online form to assist patrons with any questions as well as tips to select books and a LIVE chat service during business hours each day. The library also provides Tutor.com to help virtual learners and adult job seekers, with live one-to-one tutoring or career coaching available every day from 1-8 p.m.
  • Connecting families with loved ones who are incarcerated. The Sparta-Hancock County Library’s Bee Kind Room allows families to connect to their loved ones who are incarcerated through a safe and secure space for tele-storytimes between children and their loved one in prison, resources to help cope with having a loved one in prison, and also a space for DFACS or foster families to meet. The library also has a prison library card arrangement with the Hancock State Prison that allows inmates to check out books. This program is funded by a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 
  • Feeding and clothing families in need. The O’Kelly Memorial Library in Loganville has partnered with Lady Butterflies and Claudine’s Closet to feed families and further literacy. Claudine’s Closet provided 300 backpacks, 150 masks, and 400 meals to families this year, and Lady Butterflies comes to the library monthly, where staff work together to distribute food and clothing. This partnership has allowed them to meet the needs of 1,078 adults and 1,513 children since June, providing the local community with 15,000 pounds of fresh food items, over 4,000 items of new clothing, and books.

Azalea Regional Library System addressed COVID-19 thoughtfully and practically, keeping the health and safety of staff and patrons firmly in mind throughout the pandemic. Library staff kept communication open with funding agencies and the public with regard to closures or limited staffing hours. The library system lost an employee to COVID-19 in 2020 and in response, the system brought on an Employee Assistance Program to provide free counseling and other services for staff and immediate family members. A comprehensive resource page was also posted on the system’s website that provided information for local health resources and pandemic information.

“Ensuring the mental and physical health of our employees has been a top priority for our Administrative Team and Trustees,” said Brown.  

Azalea Regional Library System received many detailed and heartfelt support letters from elected and local officials throughout their region that showed their pride in the library system and appreciation for the work they do. The system will be hosting local celebrations throughout their region in 2022.

LIBRARY DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR

David Singleton, who has led Live Oak Public Libraries for two and a half years and retired in January, has been named public library director of the year. Throughout his tenure, Singleton has positioned the library to be more sustainable by developing innovative programs, community partnerships, and strategic projects that serve the 16-branch system’s diverse region.

“David’s contributions to our public libraries, to PINES, and to libraries on a national level are significant and widely recognized,” said Georgia State Librarian and Associate Vice Chancellor for Libraries Julie Walker. “His leadership and personal integrity are held in the highest regard throughout our profession.”

With Singleton’s vision, Live Oak Public Libraries achieved many firsts, showing leadership among library systems in Georgia. Live Oak was the first library system in PINES to pilot and launch the Student PLAY (PINES Library Access for Youth) program to provide automatic fine-free library accounts for public school students, including more than 51,000 youth in its region. 

The library began the On-Order Holds program to allow patrons to place holds on items before they hit the shelves. Live Oaks also piloted single sign-on for digital resources, in partnership with GALILEO and OpenAthens, to allow for ease of access to online collections and services; and in early 2020, the library quickly pivoted to modify models of services to be more convenient for customers, offering digital accounts, virtual programs, reducing barriers to access and offering more ability to expand beyond the walls of our buildings and go out into the community.

In a typical year, Live Oak Public Libraries normally hosts about 1.1 million visitors, checks out 1.1 million items, answers 485,000 patron questions, registers more than 555,000 computer sessions, and presents programs to nearly 125,000 patrons in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty counties.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted these statistics, Live Oak Public Libraries found new ways to support our neighbors in challenging times, and to bring the library to the community.

Through David’s leadership, library staff have developed innovative programs that are responsive to the needs of the community including outdoor storytimes, parking lot movies, take-home STEM project kits, and a Seed Library. The library’s traveling StoryWalks® provide safe, fun experiences that combine literacy and outdoor activity. Creative outreach efforts helped libraries connect with neighbors who cannot otherwise visit in person. Ready Readers partners with public middle schools to support student success. Books on the Go offers homebound services by mail. The Community Bookshelf program repurposes gently used materials by giving them a second life at school libraries, community centers, and assisted living facilities.

Live Oak Public Libraries is also a leader in the number of technology devices available to the public.  In addition to computers and high-speed internet, Chromebooks and mobile wireless hotspots can be checked out from any library and all locations have mobile printing available as well.

“I got into public libraries because I believe they have the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” said David Singleton. “Whether you’re looking for a new job or looking to improve your life in some other way with a skill or trying to figure out which car to buy. Whatever it is, libraries can help you.”

Prior to leading the Live Oak Public Libraries, Singleton served for 10 years as director of libraries for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina, a system with 20 library locations serving 1.1 million citizens. He rebuilt the system after the recession forced an $11 million budget cut, layoffs and the closing of four locations. Singleton also served as deputy state librarian at the Georgia Public Library Service, where he helped to launch the Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES). Previously, he also worked as area manager for the Gwinnett County Public Library and director of Transylvania County Library.

David Singleton will be celebrated at a local ceremony at Southwest Chatham Library on Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

PUBLIC LIBRARY EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR

Natorra Moody, branch manager at the Alma-Bacon County Public Library, has been awarded Public Library Employee of the Year. 

“Natorra has exceptionally high standards of herself, of her coworkers, and of our system,” said Martha Powers-Jones, director of Okefenokee Regional Library System. “These all center around ‘what are we doing for our people?’ Because these are our people. She reminds us of that every single day – in her work effort, in her advocacy, and in her fierce devotion to our communities.” 

Moody is very dedicated to the library and serving her community, leading programs such as a prom dress donation campaign that helps students who can’t afford formal wear obtain the clothing and accessories freely at the library. She also started a partnership with the local food bank to provide toiletry items to those in need through a shelf in the library, since the pantry only provides food items. Members of the community come to the library for these donated items as they need them. 

Natorra is the epitome of a librarian,” said her co-worker, Sarah Vaughan. “She has great ideas and she is a great leader in her community. She goes above and beyond to help her patrons. She is always willing to learn new things. She is not only a great manager, but she is a great coworker and friend.”

She also participates in many community events to promote the library and its services. She is a member of the Exchange Club as well. This past year Natorra has taken on the role of managing the Appling County Public Library during the renovation period and beyond, as the Okefenokee Regional Library System searched for a new branch manager. She has been training the new manager and is always available to help others. She has excellent customer service skills. 

Moody began working at the library as a volunteer while in high school. After graduating from Georgia Southern University, she returned to the library first as an assistant and now as the branch manager. 

Natorra Moody will be celebrated in a local ceremony on Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. 

PUBLIC LIBRARY CHAMPION OF THE YEAR

Georgia’s Public Library Champion of the Year is Senator Blake Tillery, who represents Georgia’s Senate District 19. He has facilitated as the legislature has prioritized public libraries over the years, and especially during COVID-19 by adding materials money to the state’s budget for all public libraries, acknowledging the increased demand for library services, particularly among Georgia’s middle class families as they sought safe places for reliable internet access as many schools moved to virtual format.

“Senator Tillery understands and champions the value of public libraries in every Georgia community,” said State Librarian and Associate Vice Chancellor for Libraries Julie Walker. “With many and varied funding priorities to consider, he never forgets the value of our libraries to our rural communities and works to ensure that Georgia’s libraries have the funding needed to continue their vital and excellent work in serving these areas.”

In his own community, Blake helped the local board navigate the budget process to obtain necessary funding to renovate the Vidalia Branch into a 21st Century library and reduce operating cost for the Ladson Genealogical Library, whose 35,000 books make it one of the largest genealogy facilities in the United States. He visits public libraries in his district and reads to children, lends a hand to staff, and is always willing to talk to people and listen. Nominations submitted by local library supporters praised Sen. Tillery’s leadership in advocating for the much-needed updates to their library.

“Blake Tillery is much more than the Public Library Champion of the Year,” said Ohoopee Regional Library System Director Cameron Asbell. “He is a visionary leader who challenges us all to evaluate our roles and strive to make a difference in our community. He is a compassionate politician who listens to his constituents and bases his actions on equality and integrity. He is a man who will drive by and stop to help an old friend do lawn work at the library on a Sunday afternoon.  He is someone who genuinely loves his community and his community loves him.”

Blake is a leader in the state and a leader in his community. In a very troubled year for everyone, he has stepped up and provided much-needed support for Georgia families and been gracious and humble in his service.

Senator Tillery was celebrated at a ceremony at the Altama Museum of Art and History in Vidalia on Jan. 6. 

####

Georgia Public Library Service empowers libraries to improve the lives of all Georgians by encouraging reading, literacy and education through the continuing support and improvement of our public libraries. Georgia Public Library Service is a unit of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. www.georgialibraries.org.

ALL PRESS RELEASES

Learn more about our annual awards