The annual Georgia Public Library Awards honor the outstanding achievements of public library leaders, staff, and champions.

Read the press release: Georgia Library Library Service honors public library leaders, staff, and champions

Georgia Public Library Service is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Georgia Public Library Awards, which honor public libraries and their champions who have made a profound difference in their communities.

“Strong public libraries are essential to a prosperous state, and this year’s honorees showcase the vital role that public libraries play in post-pandemic recovery, competitiveness, and resilience throughout Georgia,” said Vice Chancellor for Archives and Libraries and State Librarian Julie Walker. “Our public libraries are a model of collaboration, innovation, and excellence.”

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.

  • Cobb County Public Library has been awarded Library of the Year
  • Alan Harkness of Chattahoochee Valley Libraries is Director of the Year
  • Lydia Hahne, business manager at Hall County Library System, is Library Employee of the Year
  • Michael L. Thurmond, chief executive officer of DeKalb County, is Library Champion of the Year
  • Kathryn Ames, former director of Athens Regional Library System, has received this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award

“These award winners, along with so many others who received nominations, exemplify creativity, vision, and flexibility in adapting to the needs of a rapidly-changing world,” said Walker. “They continue to shine as community anchors across the state.”

Honorees will be celebrated at local ceremonies in early 2024.

North Cobb County Library building

Library of the Year: Cobb County Public Library

Cobb County Public Library (CCPL) has been recognized as Library of the Year for its commitment to serving its community by partnering with numerous organizations within its county and statewide, and for efforts to expand access to materials and essential services to its community.

The library serves a population of over 750,000 across 15 branches and is dedicated to being a resource center in the community by providing equal access to information, materials, and services.

“The Cobb County Public Library prides itself with providing excellent, responsive service to enrich people’s lives, support lifelong learning, build and enhance our communities,” said Georgia State Senator Michael Rhett. “The library meets the needs of patrons across school systems, the county, and beyond by providing high quality services for early and adult learning literacy, hotspot and internet access, digital skills training, continuing education, health and wellness offerings, and cultural awareness in 15 branch locations.”

Cobb County Public Library received nomination letters from local elected officials, partnering organizations, school systems, and patrons who highlighted the library’s efforts across the community.

“This library has always been a safe haven and refuge from some of the confusing things about growing up,” said Jesse Quinton, Cobb County Public Library patron of over 15 years. “The library, staff, and other patrons have always been very respectful and helpful of my desire to learn, and I’ve grown here in ways that I might not have been able to if I wasn’t provided this resource.”

“We have a diverse, creative, knowledgeable, innovative, and experienced team that goes above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve,” said Helen Poyer, director of Cobb County Public Library. “Staff are resilient and adapt well to the changing technologies, information needs, and community dynamics. They are public servants who are committed to and passionate about the role they play in promoting literacy at all levels and to all people. It is a joy, a privilege, and an honor to work with such an amazing team.”

The Cobb County Public Library has developed programs and services that enhance its role as a community hub and resource center, partnering with organizations that contribute to its goals.

A few of the library’s many unique local initiatives include:

  • Books By Mail: A free service that provides library materials to Cobb County residents who are unable to visit the library because of a physical disability, long-term illness, or lack of transportation. Items are delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, and the library provides pre-paid return postage at no cost to patrons.

“Books By Mail is a critical solution for not only our elderly patrons, but also chronically ill and physically challenged residents,” said Rachel Gray, Cobb County Public Library board trustee. “Cobb Library, in so many ways, can truly say it serves all residents, and that is possible because of our talented staff and their dedication to services like this.”

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved the service in February 2023, and the program is supported by the county’s federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund.

  • Falls Prevention Awareness Initiative: The library partners with a wide range of organizations to provide senior wellness programs, health screenings, and education for the community about the effects of injuries caused by falls.

Cobb County Public Library launched the Falls Prevention Awareness Initiative in 2015. A few of the library’s earliest collaborators include the Georgia Department of Public Health Injury Prevention Program, Cobb Senior Services, and the Shepherd Center, one of the country’s top hospitals for rehabilitation.

Staff have been trained to offer evidence-based fall prevention programs that bring people together while learning how to prevent injuries and illnesses. Year-round senior class offerings include tai chi, yoga, chair yoga, and hula hoop.

“Our falls prevention programming shows how libraries are effective in intervening to address significant community issues,” said Poyer. “These classes are about increasing knowledge and confidence and improving quality of life. The library is a place for lifelong learning; we can help you learn what you need, when you need it.”

For the initiative, Cobb County Public Library received the Award for Outstanding Service presented by the Injury Prevention Research Center at Emory (IPRCE) in 2023.

  • Vision To Learn Partnership: The library’s partnership with the nonprofit organization Vision To Learn has provided more than 2,100 eye exams and 1,400 pairs of glasses to Cobb County children for free through on-site mobile vision clinics at library branches.

This partnership helps children who have uncorrected vision needs, which means they are more likely to struggle in learning how to read. Vision To Learn visits are part of the library’s collaboration with Learn4Life, Metro Atlanta Regional Education Partnership.

“Although we have provided service at libraries across the country, Cobb County Public Library was a pioneering partner and has continued to set the standard for using libraries as a critical resource in the community, not just for literacy, but for health and wellness,” said Peter Silberman, chief growth officer at Vision To Learn.

  • Accessibility Services: Cobb County Public Library has made meeting the needs of the underserved in their community a priority. The library offers patrons a place to use assistive technology such as screen readers and magnifiers, listen to talking books, or find disability resources.

Cobb County Public Library began its focus on special needs populations in 2014, when the Windy Hill Therapeutic Center Library opened within the Cobb County PARKS Therapeutic Center. The center provides adult day care for those 18 and over who have a disability and need recreational, social, and skill-building activities. In 2019, the library expanded its programs to also serve the general public.

“We recognized that accessibility needed to become a priority for our library. Disability doesn’t have an age limit,” said Renaté Elliott, accessibility services supervisor at Cobb County Public Library. “We needed to provide services beyond those who attend adult day care. We also needed to include kids, as well as young adults who graduated from high school but are not quite ready for college or a job. We wanted to prioritize inclusion across the board.”

  • Public Library Access for Student Success: Students who attend a Marietta City School or a Cobb County Public School can use their student ID number, commonly referred to as a lunch number, to check out library materials and access digital resources.

The library is also known for providing career advancement opportunities through educational programming, workshops, partnerships, and more.

“The Cobb County Public Library has been instrumental in organizing educational workshops, offering technological access, and hosting a wide range of programs that cater to people of all ages,” said Sonya Grant, president and chief executive officer of CobbWorks. “Their unwavering commitment to serving the community is apparent in the resources and support they provide, enabling individuals to enhance their skill sets and improve their employment prospects.”

The library also partnered with Georgia Educational Resources, Inc., a sponsor of Georgia’s Summer Food Service Program, to provide over 141,500 meals to more than 11,000 children at branches in response to the pandemic’s impact on families’ ability to afford food and the program has continued since.

“The dedication and hard work that Cobb County Public Library has invested in supporting the Summer Food Service Program over the past four years are nothing short of outstanding,” said Tammie Johnson, director at Georgia Educational Resources, Inc. “Because of the library, many children received nutritious meals who may not have otherwise.”

Library Director of the Year: Alan Harkness

Alan Harkness has been named Georgia Public Library Director of the Year. Under his leadership, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, based in Columbus, became the first library system in Georgia to eliminate fines for overdue materials, and he continues to be a strong advocate for fines free programs.

Harkness has served Georgia public libraries for more than 30 years including as regional director of Piedmont Regional Library System and assistant state librarian for library development at Georgia Public Library Service. In 2013, he became the director of Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, where he oversees the four-county regional library system that serves a population of 250,000 through seven facilities, two bookmobiles, and two automated 24-hour library kiosks.

Harkness is known for being an early advocate for the elimination of fines in Georgia public libraries. “This is something that other libraries were doing nationally, but I didn’t think it would work here because we thought we needed the revenue from book fines. When a colleague, a former library director, sent me all the data from their fines free campaign in Utah, it really opened my eyes,” said Harkness. “When I saw the projected real impact on the community versus revenue, I realized it was something that would benefit our library and became very excited about it!”

Harkness worked to educate the library’s board members and stakeholders about the benefits of being fines free, including increased access to library materials and reduced barriers for patrons who had stopped using the library due to fines.

In 2019, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries became the first library in the state to eliminate fines for overdue materials.

“Immediately, staff started seeing people return to the library or get a library card; they were excited with us. It was really a rare opportunity in one’s career, when you see the impacts almost immediately,” said Harkness. “And once the data started rolling in, with the wonderful anecdotes, it cemented that we made the right decision.”

Since the library implemented its fines free program, it has experienced an increase in cardholder sign-ups as well as in activity among occasional and recently-lapsed users. In the first year after going fines free, the library saw a 34% increase in new card sign-ups and an 11% increase in circulations over a four-month period compared to the previous year.

He is known for his willingness to share what he has learned, especially the essential data collected during the process of going fines free. He has met with library boards and staff across the state encouraging other libraries to evaluate the possibility of implementing fines free programs.

Harkness received several nomination letters from current Georgia public library system directors who recognized his leadership in the fines free movement.

“Going fines free is a compassionate act. It makes sense that Alan would lead such a movement. Piedmont Regional Library System is now fines-free largely thanks to his leading the way,” said Beth McIntyre, director of Piedmont Regional Library System. “He has always been available for encouragement and advice. His observations are thoughtful and accurate. He is never satisfied with the status quo and is always looking for ways to improve.”

Alan Harkness, director of Chattahoochee Valley Library System

Library Employee of the Year: Lydia Hahne

Lydia Hahne, business manager at Hall County Library System, has been awarded Georgia Public Library Employee of the Year for her years of service and ensuring the library can serve its community by managing budgets, mentoring fellow staff, and taking on challenges beyond what is expected.

“It is rare to meet an individual who has devoted their entire working life to one organization. It is rarer to get the opportunity to work with someone who has demonstrated such devotion along with leadership, commitment, a passion for service, and an exceptional work ethic,” said Lisa MacKinney, library director of Hall County Library System.

Hahne began working for the library as a shelver when she was 15 years old in 1979. During her 44 years at the library, she has held several positions including administrative assistant, circulation assistant, and bookkeeper, and she currently serves as the library system’s business manager.

Many of the nominations Hahne received highlighted her commitment to the library even during challenging times.

When the library endured years of financial struggles stemming from the 2008 financial crisis, Hahne guided the funding and budgeting processes to ensure the library continued functioning with reduced services.

“Her presence and reassurances that our library could continue to operate and serve the community helped keep staff morale positive,” said Bernice Cox, a member of the Friends of Hall County Library System. “Our library weathered this most difficult time in large part due to her judgment, her guidance, and her skills.”

By 2015, the system had closed two branches, operated with a minimal budget, and dramatically reduced service hours due to low staff levels. Despite budget constraints, Hahne worked to help keep essential library services functioning.

“Fast forward to the end of the 2023 fiscal year, thanks in large part to Lydia’s hard work and skills, the Hall County Library System has a fund balance that sits at the recommendation level. We have our best-ever material budget,” said MacKinney. “None of these things would be possible without Lydia’s steady hand and knowledge.”

Hahne’s work has supported the library’s ability to introduce or expand services such as passport and notary services, as well as the restoration of many of the library system’s operating hours that were previously lost due to budget cuts. The library has also completed several remodeling projects at multiple branches, with plans for a new branch in development.

Hahne is considered essential to the library’s functioning and an expert in her position who is known for offering guidance and helping others beyond what is expected. When the business manager of a neighboring library system resigned, Hahne lent her expertise.

“Our ability to pay employees and bills was in jeopardy, and we were in urgent need of help. She stepped in, using her expertise to ensure the timely payment of our employees and bills, averting a financial crisis that could have had severe repercussions,” said Leslie Clark, director of Chestatee Regional Library System. “Lydia exemplifies the spirit of collaboration, selflessness, and dedication to the wellbeing of the library community.”

Lydia Hahne

Library Champion of the Year: Michael Thurmond

Georgia Public Library Champion of the Year is Michael L. Thurmond, chief executive officer of DeKalb County, who was essential to DeKalb County Public Library’s recovery after the pandemic.

“Michael Thurmond’s multifaceted support for the library, from recognizing the unique, hard work of staff; securing vital funding and resources; and advocating for employee wellbeing, truly sets him apart as a Georgia Public Library Champion of the Year. His influence is not only felt today but will leave a lasting legacy for years to come,” said Alison Weissinger, director of DeKalb County Public Library.

Thurmond is known for his lifelong dedication to serving the public. In 1986, he became the first African American from Clarke County elected to the Georgia General Assembly. He received a gubernatorial appointment to serve as director of the state’s Division of Family and Children Services in 1994. Thurmond was elected Georgia labor commissioner in 1998 and served three terms. He later served as superintendent of the DeKalb County School District from 2013-2015 and was elected CEO of DeKalb County in 2016 and reelected in 2020.

Thurmond has supported the DeKalb County Public Library throughout his tenure as CEO of DeKalb County. Some examples include:

  • Assisted with the restoration of 111 operating hours to the library in 2017, including budget approval for extended night and weekend access to branches.
  • Increased the books and materials budget back to its pre-recession level of $2 million in 2018. This allowed the DeKalb Library Foundation to allocate funds to other initiatives such as expanding Wi-Fi hotspot services and literacy programs including 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten and the Summer Reading Program.
  • Raised wages and updated salary ranges for staff, which have increased retention and supported career advancement.
  • Advocated for the inclusion of the library in two of DeKalb’s SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) referendums, the most recent of which passed in 2023. This will result in $13.8 million to finance building renovations and other improvements.

During the pandemic, Thurmond recognized the library as an essential department by enacting frontline pay for all library employees.

Thurmond also helped to secure funding and resources to support the library’s shift to curbside services including the extension of Wi-Fi to the library’s parking lot for workers and students.

“Mr. Thurmond made clear the importance of the library to the lives of everyone in DeKalb, especially those hardest hit with the shutdown. In fact, the library was one of the first departments to reopen, other than those involved with public safety and infrastructure,” said Weissinger.

Thurmond is an avid reader and author of three nonfiction books of history including “Freedom: Georgia’s Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865,” which was awarded the Georgia Historical Society’s Lilla Hawes Award. His latest book on the life of James Oglethorpe is scheduled for publication in February 2024.

Michael Thurmond

Lifetime Achievement: Kathryn Ames

Kathryn Ames has been honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to the Athens Regional Library System and her impact on Georgia public libraries over 40 years of service.

Ames began working for the Athens Regional Library System in 1973 and became its director in 1986. Her reputation as a library leader is immense and renowned.

“Kathie was very helpful in getting me acclimated to my new position as the Athens Regional Library director,” said Valerie Bell. “After she served as director for almost 30 years, one might think she was ready to truly retire. However, she was very generous with her time. We often went to lunch where she would share her knowledge with me.”

Ames made many contributions that have a lasting impact on public libraries statewide, including supporting the development of Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES), the borderless automation and lending network, when it launched in 1999.

Ames also volunteered to be a part of the first PINES steering committee, which helped develop many of the program’s policies and procedures. Today, the PINES network connects 300 libraries and affiliated service outlets in 51 library systems covering 146 counties, giving Georgians access to a collection of over 11 million books and other materials that can be delivered to their home library free of charge.

“Kathie exemplified a passion and high standard of commitment to the advancement of libraries and free access to the services they provide to all people,” said Susan Whittle, executive director of Southwest Georgia Regional Library System. “Her talents, skills, and drive for excellence in service demonstrated her outstanding vision and leadership skills.”

During her tenure as director of Athens Regional Library System, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded the library two National Leadership grants to design and share original service programs.

With the IMLS grant received in 2004, Ames worked to expand library services for the system’s Hispanic community, which included the expansion of the Pinewoods Library and Learning Center. In 2009, the Pinewoods Library was named one of two runners-up for Library Journal’s Best Small Library in America award.

“Kathie was tireless, fearless, and purposeful in her quest to serve the public and to advance libraries throughout the state. She never pursued the limelight or attention for herself, but always sought new approaches to promote and improve library service to people,” said Donna Brumby, former assistant director for organizational development at Athens Regional Library System.

She was also invested in providing leadership training for library employees. She helped create Georgia’s Public Library Institute for New and Creative Leadership Education (PINNACLE) and served as an instructor and mentor during the inaugural years. Many library employees who worked and trained under Ames currently hold leadership positions at libraries in Georgia.

When Ames retired in 2015, the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County named the plaza in front of Athens-Clarke Library after her, in recognition of her service.

“I have always had the highest admiration for Kathie’s willingness to raise her hand and be the first to try an innovative approach or a bold new project; she embraced the cutting edge,” said Julie Walker, vice chancellor for libraries and archives and state librarian. “And because she was an admired leader amongst her peers, she gave others a level of comfort with what seemed to be a crazy risk. She was proven right, as she was so many times.”

Lydia Hahne