The annual Georgia Public Library Awards honor the outstanding achievements of public libraries, library staff, and champions. This year, we celebrate Marshes of Glynn Libraries; Cameron Asbell, director of Ohoopee Regional Library System; Rebecca Ballard, regional children’s services coordinator at Athens Regional Library System; and Clyde and Sandra Strickland, philanthropists supporting Gwinnett County Public Library.
January 24, 2023
CONTACT: Deborah Hakes, Georgia Public Library Service, firstname.lastname@example.org
ATLANTA – Georgia Public Library Service is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 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 Vice Chancellor for Archives and Libraries and State Librarian Julie Walker.
Award winners are selected from nominations submitted by library patrons, trustees, Friends of Libraries groups, and staff, showcasing the best and brightest who serve in public libraries throughout the state.
Marshes of Glynn Libraries has been awarded Library of the Year; Cameron Asbell of Ohoopee Regional Library System is Director of the Year; Rebecca Ballard, children’s librarian at Athens Regional Library System, is Library Employee of the Year; and Clyde and Sandra Strickland are Library Champions of the Year.
These award winners will be celebrated at local ceremonies in early 2023. Contact each library for further information.
LIBRARY OF THE YEAR
Marshes of Glynn Libraries (MOGL) has been recognized as Library of the Year for its efforts to strengthen community partnerships, diversify its funding portfolio, and expand services to meet the informational, educational, cultural, and recreational needs of the Glynn County population.
The single-county library system serves a population of 85,000 in Glynn County, Georgia, through two branches, the Brunswick-Glynn County Library and the St. Simons Island Public Library. It is a member of the PINES library consortium, which gives patrons access to the collections of 300 library branches and affiliated service outlets throughout the state of Georgia.
“The staff are the stars of our library system,” said Director Geri Mullis. “With friendly faces and listening ears, they transfer the vision of our libraries into reality for patrons of all ages in Glynn County. Staff help job seekers to find work, give snacks to food-vulnerable youth, teach languages, provide children’s books for families to start home libraries, are a social outlet for many people, share technology tools for patrons to express their creativity, curate archival collections to preserve local history, and in between all of that, staff checked out a ton of great books.”
Marshes of Glynn Libraries received nomination letters from local partners, business leaders, and patrons who each highlighted the impact the library has made in the community.
“Marshes of Glynn Libraries supports our Chamber of Commerce through professional development, technology, workforce development, and meeting space,” said Ralph Staffins, president and CEO of the Brunswick Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce. “It was the chamber’s pleasure to work with the library for a Grow with Google program that helped to foster small business and entrepreneurship in our community.”
A few of the library’s many unique local programs and initiatives include:
- Take 5: The Marshes of Glynn Libraries launched an early literacy family engagement project called Take 5 to address community deficits in early reading proficiency after an anonymous donor gave $25,000 in 2020. The project is helping the library reestablish early literacy outreach following the impacts of COVID-19 on family engagement with schools and public libraries.
In cooperation with the Glynn County Schools’ public pre-K program, the library shares ways to promote reading readiness with families of preschool students. Each week for five weeks, students receive a bag of items focusing on an early literacy strategy such as talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. Each bag also contains three books, a learning tool or toy, and a handout with additional information and suggested activities.
The initial funding enabled the library to provide Take 5 bags to 200 pre-K students in the lowest socioeconomic public elementary school in Glynn County. An IMLS grant helped expand the program to all pre-K students in Glynn County Schools, and through Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading in Georgia (L4GA) funding, Take 5 nowencompasses all private pre-K and Head Start programs.
Through private donations and additional L4GA funds, all public and private pre-K programs will receive Take 5 take-home literacy materials again in 2023. By the time the 2023 project is complete, over 1,700 pre-K students and families will have received 25,000+ books and materials to promote early literacy education in their homes.
“I love seeing the Take 5 bags around town,” said Mullis. “It is always a happy surprise to see a kiddo or parent holding one across the field at a ball game, at the doctor’s office, or randomly in a store.”
- Club Library: Marshes of Glynn Libraries has a public library space in a Boys & Girls Club that serves the area’s lowest socioeconomic elementary school. Children and staff can check out materials there, as well as use early literacy stations, a programming and gaming space, and more.
- Literacy Academy: The Boys & Girls Club also has an Early Literacy Academy in a public housing complex that serves as an after-school center for 100-175 public pre-K students. The library maintains a space in the academy with books and other materials that students can use daily.
“The extension library at The Boys & Girls Club has been an overwhelming success, and nearly 400 children and families have benefited from the Marshes of Glynn Libraries’ ability to think outside the box,” said Brian Dolan, chief professional officer at the Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Georgia. “This collaboration was used to leverage the implementation of the Literacy Academy. Both programs are now an instrumental piece in educating our community about literacy and ensuring our children will become responsible, educated adults.”
- Workforce development: The library has a strong partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce and regularly hosts workforce development training provided by the chamber to the business community. The library also offers ESL classes year-round, as well as adult language classes in Spanish, French, Italian, and American Sign Language.
- Robotics camp: Each summer, the library offers a Robotics Camp for teens. Since it began, they have partnered with a mathematics professor from the College of Coastal Georgia. The library hires interns from the college to run the camp, and in 2022 the program came full-circle when it employed an intern who had participated in the library’s very first Robotics Camp.
Marshes of Glynn Libraries recently completed its first strategic plan that allowed the libraries to establish the system, strengthen and increase community partnerships, increase government and private funding, expand programming and services, and renovate both library facilities. In 2022, the libraries launched a second strategic plan organization to improve the quality of life in Glynn County, sustain the diverse revenue base to increase growth of library services, raise awareness of the critical role that libraries fill in the county, provide facilities and technological infrastructure to support libraries of the future, and provide dynamic library services to meet the informational, educational, cultural, and recreational needs of the Glynn County population.
The system will host a community party on May 5, 2023, at the Brunswick Library during First Friday, a monthly event where local businesses stay open late. Marshes of Glynn Libraries operates as a unit of the Glynn County government and is governed by a nine-member board of trustees appointed by the Glynn County Board of Commissioners.
LIBRARY DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Cameron Asbell, who has built local funding and support for the Ohoopee Regional Library System over six years, including planning for the 21st century library renovations of the Vidalia Library, has been named Library Director of the Year.
“There are many outstanding directors and staff within Georgia public libraries, and I am honored to work with them,” said Cameron Asbell. “Their dedication and passion inspire me to do my best every day. A public library should be a place where everyone finds something of themselves and fosters a sense of belonging. It is the heart of the community it serves, and my goal every day is to make sure people know we are here for them. I am very fortunate to work with a wonderful staff, actively engaged Library Boards, Friends of the Library, and supportive communities that love and celebrate their library.”
When she became the director in 2016, the system was in a turbulent time. Board members had resigned, and several directors had left after brief intervals.
“On my first day as director, I walked into the building and thought it hadn’t opened yet,” said Asbell. “There were no patrons in there, and the lights were so dim, I didn’t realize they were on.” Staff had attached adhesive, motion-sensitive lights to the bookstacks just to see the titles. “On my second day, I had to put a tarp on the bookshelves to protect them from rain coming through the leaky roof. I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”
The community didn’t support its library, and it showed. One resident suggested that the best thing that could happen to the library was to bulldoze it and build a Starbucks so there would be something of value on the lot.
Asbell went with the library board to community leaders to talk about the library. “We were not well-received,” she said. “They kept saying things like, ‘the library makes promises and doesn’t keep them.’ I spent the next few years applying for every grant I could, making updates, and following through. We created a STEM room and received a grant to fix the lights. Then I would visit funder offices to tell them what we did. By now they knew my face. I worked to change the library’s culture. I would ask my staff, ‘What does it cost you to say yes?’”
She not only stabilized the library and restored the confidence of large donors, she also was a persistent advocate for renovations to meet the needs of the community and programming to encourage the community to come inside their local library.
“Cameron cultivated programming, increased visitor volume at the current facility, and gained the support of board members for big plans,” said nominator Sen. Blake Tillery. “Once all the puzzle pieces were assembled, Cameron announced a major new project – a complete rebuild and consolidation of the Vidalia Library and the Ladson Genealogy Library. The idea, discussed for about a decade and once started and failed, now received backing from patrons, donors, and all local governments because she understood how to devise and command a process.”
Today, the rebuild of the Vidalia-Toombs County Library is in its final stages. Cameron has not slowed down, though, and now is managing a fundraising campaign to extend the hours of the Nelle Brown Memorial Library in Lyons, Georgia.
“An organization does not make the paradigm shift we have seen at the Ohoopee Library System without a dedicated captain,” said Tillery. “Cameron Asbell has been that captain for this community. She has made multiple sacrifices personally to meet the local library’s budgets, maintain staff, and grow programs. Cameron has certainly made an impact on our community, and I know this organization would also benefit from recognizing such a true public servant.”
Asbell received additional nominations from library trustees, patrons, community leaders, staff, and volunteers.
“Cameron is a timeless warrior for the public library system,” said Brian Bishop, library trustee. “She does everything with enthusiasm and a smile on her face.”
The renovated Vidalia Library includes a teaching kitchen, Spark Lab for weekly kids’ programming, study rooms with smartboards, and movable shelves so the space can be adjusted as needs change.
“So many people in the community are excited about this project,” said Asbell. “Voters are telling our local legislators that the library is important and valuable, and they are listening.”
These days, on any given afternoon at the Vidalia Library, the building is full of local residents. Kids participate in STEM programming, read books, or try out the 3D printer, while adults use the free Wi-Fi to apply for jobs or stay connected. Tutors and their clients spread across tables in the main room. A local preacher writes his weekly sermons using one computer.
“To use a sports analogy, I feel like we have gone from last to first,” said Gary Campbell, member of the local Friends of the Library Group. “And Cameron has been instrumental in making this happen. Cameron is passionate about her work and is committed to excellence. And this passion shows up in her motivated and effective staff. And it also has shown up in the increased usage of our library during her tenure. As a community volunteer, I am once again proud of our library.”
Cameron Asbell began her library career as a library clerk at the UGA Library on the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College campus in Tifton. She continued at Statesboro Regional Public Library System as a part-time circulation clerk and worked her way up to the position of director of IT and Technical Services. She came to the Ohoopee Regional System in 2015 as the IT and Cataloging librarian and was hired as the regional director in 2016. In 2017, she completed the PINNACLE leadership training program and the Georgia Public Libraries Financial Management Certification program. She has bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University and a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Valdosta State University as part of the Libraries Build Communities scholarship cohort.
A local celebration is being planned for April, with details to follow.
PUBLIC LIBRARY EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
Rebecca Ballard, regional Children’s Services coordinator at Athens Regional Library System, has been awarded Public Library Employee of the Year for her efforts to bring joy to the library for all ages.
“Miss Rebecca – as she’s known to our patrons – is such an asset to our library! With her creativity, talent, knowledge, and skills, she is an enthusiastic champion of childhood and family literacy,” said Valerie Bell, executive director of the Athens Regional Library System. “She has touched many lives in her years at the Athens Regional Library System, and we are beyond thrilled for her contributions to be recognized with this award.”
Ballard began her library career at the Athens-Clarke County Library working in educational technology, teaching, and assisting patrons with computers and software. When a position in children’s services opened, Rebecca began developing new programs highlighting music and puppetry. She relocated a few years later to the Oconee County Library to serve as the Children’s Services manager, developing creative library programming and increasing children’s program attendance by 400 percent. Currently, she serves as regional Children’s Services coordinator for the Athens Regional Library System and is also serving as president of the Georgia Library Association for 2023.
“Rebecca’s cumulative talent is a force of nature that the library is wise to nurture and support,” said Chari Pavlos, library supporter. “The children of the Athens and Oconee communities have a safe, warm, caring space to explore their world, arts, learning, and growth when they engage in the library’s childrens’ programs with Miss Rebecca.”
She is locally famous for her children’s band, Rebecca Sunshine Band, which she incorporates into children’s programming at the library. Her undergraduate studies in music, theater, and costume design at the University of Georgia have enabled her to further share her talent through library workshops, puppet shows, costumes, and theater.
“I love that I can help make the library a welcoming second home for a lot of people,” she said. “I love designing programs, and I love getting kids excited about literature and the library.”
Ballard champions the expansion and preservation of library campuses, leads the Lego Club, hosts events with children’s book authors, and organizes Star Wars Day, which has become an annual community event attracting hundreds of attendees. Her programs are neuro-inclusive and often highlight underrepresented groups.
“Rebecca is absolutely critical to the mental health and well-being of this community, especially its children and parents,” said Jo Robertson, library supporter.
She received many nominations from parents, who all noted the impact she’s had on their lives.
“From the time that my daughter was a baby – during story times to now as a young reader – she remembers my daughter, can recall her specific interests, and is always delightful with a positive personality with a knack for connecting to children,” said Sandy Green, library supporter. “My daughter has recognized Rebecca through her children’s band outside of the library. Her gifted music abilities, involvement in the community, knowledgeability, and overwhelming kindness have meant so much to our family and many others.”
Rebecca Ballard will be celebrated in a local ceremony on Friday, April 21, from 3-5 p.m. at Athens-Clarke County Library.
PUBLIC LIBRARY CHAMPIONS OF THE YEAR
Georgia’s Public Library Champions of the Year are Clyde and Sandra Strickland, philanthropists whose generosity has impacted hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout Gwinnett County.
“The Stricklands are huge advocates for the library system,” said Jason DiFranco, director of development and community partnerships at Gwinnett County Public Library. “Their focus is advancing education and literacy, so it has always been a perfect marriage for us. Whether it be providing funding for scholarships for individuals to earn their high school diplomas, seed money to start their own businesses through the New Start Entrepreneurship Incubator, or donating funds to assist with technology and collections to help support literacy for all ages, the Stricklands’ generosity has changed many people’s lives.”
Clyde and Sandra Strickland are well-known in Gwinnett County for their philanthropy, including building the Strickland Heart Center at Northside Hospital Gwinnett. In 2022, Sandra was named Philanthropist of the Year by the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Clyde is the founder of Metro Waterproofing, one of the most successful companies serving the construction industry in the Southeast.
Their philanthropy has ensured the Gwinnett County Public Library offers resources and services to the underprivileged in their community.
Some examples include:
- Funding the Career Online High School program for individuals who have not graduated and have aged out of public schools. They can continue their education online at no cost, at their own pace, and earn an accredited diploma. Graduates go on to college or use their degrees to advance their career positions.
- Funding the New Start Entrepreneurship Incubator program, from which over 38 individuals have completed the course and started their own businesses. This program is for individuals who were incarcerated at some point and find re-entering the workforce nearly impossible. As successful entrepreneurs, the Stricklands are also heavily involved in class structure and materials. All participants ultimately pitch their business plans to local entrepreneurs for possible seed funding.
- Funding library staff scholarships to help them complete their education and further their careers.
The Stricklands also donated $1 million toward the library’s comprehensive campaign for programming at the Hooper-Renwick themed library being built in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Hooper-Renwick was the first and only African American public school in Gwinnett County from 1940-1968. The building was saved from demolition and will become the first African American themed library in the Southeast. The hope is that it will help tell the story and history of the black community in the county and Georgia. The Stricklands not only donated the first $1 million, but continue to raise awareness and assist in raising funds for the campaign.
Clyde and Sandra Strickland will be celebrated at a ceremony on March 21, 2023, at 11 a.m. at the Duluth Library.
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. Learn more about our annual library awards at www.georgialibraries.org/gpla.