Q&As with 2019 Library Awards Recipients

The recipients of the 2019 Georgia Public Library Awards daily champion libraries across the state. Their efforts to show that libraries are the heart of their communities has made a meaningful difference in many lives. Read our Q&A’s below with each award winner.

Lifetime Achievement 

LeRoy Childs was a leader in the formation of state and national library policy, and he was the first black public library director in Georgia. Childs died in 1986, and this Q&A is with his grandson Jason Childs. 

What is your grandfather’s legacy?

Pedagogy! Leroy Childs was a stoic, insightful man of stellar integrity who exuded a presence of preservation. His entire life centered around an “each one teach one” philosophy that understood that knowledge inherently presented itself in the least likely of places.

What are you most proud of with regards to your grandfather’s achievements?

Integrity will always stand the test of time, and I am most excited that my grandfather possessed the patience and discipline to remain humble in his journey.

Why is this recognition of his achievements important?

Recognition of my grandfather is less important to myself or my family and most important to the thousands of African descended educators in a classroom or library at this very moment. His legacy will forever provide the fuel and resilience necessary to traverse curriculum in the African American community for years to come.

What do you want others to know about him?

His entire presence was projected from a quiet and pensive individual who rarely made time for himself and made his life’s work about helping others.

Why are libraries important to communities?

Libraries are a source of liberation for the average American. Most Americans are forced with a duplicitous, binary decision pattern of food and/or shelter, leaving very little resource to explore continued or adult education. The contemporary library surpassed its elitist Renaissance era reputation and has become a bastion of community progress that evens the playing field. The contemporary library has created scientists, entrepreneurs, mayors, police officers and most importantly adult literacy.

Librarian of the Year 

Stephen Houser, director of Twin Lakes Library System

How does your library impact lives and your community? 

Our library is a fundamental part of the social fabric of our community, providing a connection to its past, present, and future. From friendships formed between parents at storytimes, regular patrons who staff know exactly what book to recommend, and jobseekers who’ve come back to tell us thanks for assisting them in finding a job, the relationships formed in our library are vital to the social and civic health of our communities.

What are some of your projects special to your community? 

We try to bring innovative services that our rural community needs, while also recognizing our community’s historic role in Georgia history. We are one of 12 libraries in the country to receive funding for TV White Space, which enables us to provide free high speed wi-fi in our local parks. We have several initiatives related to community engagement, including our Democracy Lab project, a Community VoiceBox (which repurposes an old phone booth to create an interactive wi-fi hotspot), and On the Table community discussions. We are currently partnering with MIT to provide an urban ecology program to help our youth appreciate the role of nature in their lives.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our staff, who provide amazing services to our community every day. Having gone through a funding crisis last year, and seeing the community support that helped us navigate that experience, it was really driven home to me how important the relationships between our library employees and the community that they serve.

How do you engage your community?

The role of our library in the democratic structure of our community means that we constantly seek to engage, partner, and provide access to resources to our patrons. From our mobile storytimes, to Summer Reading Club programs in local housing developments during the summer, to our civic engagement programs, we recognize the fundamentally American idea of public libraries and our obligation to our community.

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.

Library Champion of the Year

Dr. Gordon Baker most recently served as a library trustee at Henry County Public Library from 2001-2018, including as the board’s chair from 2005-2018. Dr. Baker has been described as “Mr. Library” for the State of Georgia. As Henry County Public Library, he guided the board through tumultuous times with serious funding challenges. He worked at the Clayton State Library for more than 15 years; currently he is Dean of Libraries Emeritus. He also serves on the American Library Association’s United for Libraries Board of Directors.

What do you enjoy most about your efforts to support libraries? 

Libraries, no matter what level, impact the lives of their users and of their users’ communities.  It is so important in today’s world to have a literate society. Libraries and their staff help to make this happen. The libraries provide the knowledge and the staff impart that knowledge!

Why are libraries important?

Not only do libraries provide materials to their communities, the libraries also have the electronic resources to assist their community members.  Whether this is the GALILEO databases, specialized databases, computers, copiers, scanners, or other items, libraries provide these resources at an affordable cost!

What is the biggest challenge that libraries face?

Funding is the biggest challenge facing libraries today.  Whether it is a school library, college library, or a public library.  The funding for most of these libraries are tied to legislative activity.  It always amazes me that folks think libraries are no longer necessary. Everything is not available on the internet and everything on the internet is not available either free or at a minimal cost.  Legislative bodies must come to realize what value they have in libraries.

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud of the advancement made by the Henry County Library System.  I began my career as a high school page at the McDonough Library. At that time there were only two libraries in Henry County, both in old wooden structures. Today we have branches throughout the county, and we are available to the citizens of Henry County.