For his efforts to lead his library system through a very public and political local funding crisis, as well as launch innovative and nationally-recognized programs, Stephen Houser, director of Twin Lakes Library System, has been named Georgia Public Librarian of the Year.
“The first thing you discover about him is that he’s always willing to take on a new challenge, whether that be chairing statewide committees or trying to bring innovative technology to his community,” said Richard Groves, director of the Catoosa County Library. “For example, Stephen was one of the first directors pushing for a student card in the PINES system, which will be a benefit to all 302 PINES libraries.”
With Houser’s leadership, the Twin Lakes system was one of just eight libraries nationally to receive a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to provide internet access in public spaces.
The project uses an innovative technology called TV White Space, which utilizes the unused spectrum in the TV bands. The system can deliver broadband to a hotspot miles away, passing through buildings, trees, and other obstructions. Houser believes it could improve the city’s resilience by adding another communication capability for disaster preparedness.
In Milledgeville, a rural city of about 18,600 residents, the library is a key internet provider for many.
“Our library strives to deliver free access to its services to all community members, and this is part of our mission of connecting our resources to our patrons,” said Houser. “This grant allows us to be at the forefront of library services, especially in rural communities, while also adding value to taxpayer dollars by expanding the availability of the services that we already offer.”
Despite local successes, the Twin Lakes Library System found itself almost losing all state aid and most local funding, as local government officials were unable to come to an agreement to fund the library, among other services.
“Stephen’s messages to his community about the value and importance of libraries were truly inspiring and reminded me of why I decided to become a librarian,” said Groves. “His messages told of the positive impacts all of our libraries have on individuals and how our communities would lose an important part of their identity when they lose their local public library. I’m sure his messages were an integral part of rallying support behind the library to keep its funding.”
Houser has served as director of Twin Lakes Library System since 2014. He also led the Georgia Download Destination (GADD), an ebook consortium, from 2015-2019. He currently leads the Regents Public Library Advisory Committee (RPLAC), which represents the state public library systems on behalf of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.