Library of the Year
The Okefenokee Regional Library System has been recognized as Library of the Year for its work connecting communities and creating space for public engagement in five counties in Southeast Georgia.
Tell us about your library.
Headquartered in Waycross, Georgia, the Okefenokee Regional Library System was formed in 1955 and serves Appling, Bacon, Clinch, Pierce, and Ware counties. Our counties are heavily rural, and we work hard to make sure that all of our people can connect to their communities at the library and through our services.
How does your library impact lives and your community?
We provide not only the space and resources to accomplish goals and connect with the world, but our staff members also strive to make sure everyone feels seen and accepted at the library. This touch of common humanity has made us an oasis for many members of our community.
What are some of your innovative projects that are special to your community?
After hearing about Project Prom at the Georgia Library Conference, our branch managers implemented it for our system, starting with our Bacon County branch last year. Project Prom provides free formal attire donated by community members, and community businesses donate hair and makeup services. In addition to the many students who were able to find stunning formal attire to attend prom through this event, some Bacon County High School students were able to find appropriate attire to attend a statewide conference gala. This year, Project Prom is moving to our Clinch County branch.
This year we are hosting the fifth annual OkeCon, a fan convention bringing together gamers, cosplayers, and comics enthusiasts from across the state. OkeCon has expanded each year since 2015. Last year OkeCon was attended by over 700 people, and we added a pavilion for boffering, a type of combat using foam weapons. Join us Saturday, May 2, 2020 from 10 am to 4 pm for free comics, games, and activities for all ages and all fandoms.
What are you most proud of?
Our counties are quite rural, and it can be a challenge for many to find places where they can connect and experience a sense of belonging – a sense of community. Our libraries focus on making this happen, and each of our staff members are passionate about making the library a place of connection for all. We endeavor to remove anything that might be a barrier or that might prevent people from feeling like they belong at our library. We are most proud of the progress we’ve made reaching new audiences and bringing back patrons whose use of the library had dropped off. We believe that our organization-wide culture of outreach and acceptance has allowed us to accomplish this.
How do you engage your community?
Our libraries work closely to support and collaborate with our communities. Our staff members visit their local schools several times a year for events ranging from story time to providing library card sign-up opportunities during open houses. We also participate in local events providing crafts, story times, and outreach services. We work hard to make sure that everyone knows what services and programs we provide.
We also strive to create space for community through clubs such as Knot Just for Knitters, the Gaming Guild, and Anime Culture Club. We also partner with community organizations like Waygreen to host events such as the Park-It Market, a bimonthly farmer’s market and artisan fair held in the library parking lot.