“I love that I can help make the library a welcoming second home for people.”
The crowd was rowdy. Everyone was on their feet stomping and dancing, and that was before the human-sized dinosaur entered the room. Then kids and grown-ups alike all lost it in a fit of shrieking and laughing.
“I was teaching the kids a prehistoric marching dance,” said Rebecca Ballard, regional Children’s Services coordinator at Athens Regional Library System. “They loved acting like dinosaurs. The expressions on everyone’s faces when they saw the T-rex walk in was hilarious and fun to experience.”
Ballard has been awarded Georgia Public Library Employee of the Year for her efforts to bring joy to the library for all ages.
She is locally famous for her children’s band, Rebecca Sunshine Band, which she incorporates into 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 people,” she said. “I love designing programs, and I love getting kids excited about literature and the library.”
Ballard also leads a Lego Club, hosts events with children’s book authors, and organizes a local Star Wars Day that 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, a library supporter.
She received many Library Employee of the Year nominations from parents, who all noted the impact that she has had on their lives.
“From the time that my daughter was a baby – during story times to now as a young reader – Rebecca remembers my daughter, can recall her specific interests, and is always delightful with a positive personality and a knack for connecting to children,” said Sandy Green. “Her gifted music abilities, involvement in the community, knowledgeability, and overwhelming kindness have meant so much to our family and many others.”
“Miss Rebecca, as she’s known to our patrons, is such an asset! With her creativity, talent, 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 library, 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. When she transitioned to a position in children’s services, Rebecca began developing new programs highlighting music and puppetry. She became a Children’s Services manager at the Oconee County Library branch, developing creative library programming and increasing children’s program attendance by 400 percent.
“Rebecca’s cumulative talent is a force of nature that the library is wise to nurture and support,” said library supporter Chari Pavlos. “The children of the Athens and Oconee communities have a safe, caring space to explore their world, arts, learning, and growth when they engage in the library’s childrens’ programs with Miss Rebecca.”
Georgia Public Library Employee of the Year: Special Recognition
Georgia Public Library Service would also like to recognize five additional nominees for Library Employee of the Year.
Ruby Allen, assistant branch manager, Sandy Springs Public Library, Fulton County Library System
Ruby Allen is one of the shining stars in the Sandy Springs Public Library, according to nominator and co-worker Sugandh Goswami. “She has a very energetic and encouraging personality, and I love attending the art and crafts classes that she organizes,” said Goswami.
Allen has developed strong relationships with patrons, community groups, and organizations. The residents of the Villa Palazzo Senior Living Community visit the library on a regular basis to see Ruby and participate in her special programs for seniors. Patrons often ask for her by name because of her patience, knowledge, and engaging personality.
“Ruby is one of the hardest-working people I have ever known and a wonderful example to staff,” said Michael Kim, Sandy Springs Library branch manager. “Patrons and staff frequently marvel at her boundless energy and breadth of knowledge. She has a nurturing nature and is patient with staff, always willing to sit down with them to assist or guide them.”
Henny Holbrook, adult services librarian, Switzer Library, Cobb County Public Library System
Henny Holbrook was nominated by several library patrons who noted that she leads a very popular monthly book club, Let’s Talk, which focuses on cross-cultural understanding. The club highlights and promotes dialogue about books on different cultures and subcultures. Holbrook brings in speakers and foods from featured countries to enhance the experience.
“I have learned so much from this book club,” said Eileen McDonald, library supporter. “Henny goes out of her way to make this an exciting adventure.”
Nominator Laura Agadoni noted that when she decided to check out the renovated Switzer Library, Holbrook took the time to show her how to use library services and programs that have changed over the years. “Now I’m using the library as a community space again in addition to checking out books,” said Agadoni.
“When Henny sees a need, she acts, such as starting the Let’s Talk book discussion group in 2021,” said her supervisor, Suzanne Kincer. “The book club is a collaboration between Henny and other staff and demonstrates the diversity throughout the library and Cobb County as a whole.”
Gwendolyn Jackson, manager, Burke County Library, Greater Clarks Hill Regional Library
Jackson was nominated for her dedication to the library and efforts to help library patrons. According to nominator Connie Herndon, she even opens the library after hours and on days the library is closed for patrons who need to use the facility.
She has served the community as a library employee since 1981, starting as a student assistant and working her way up to managing the three libraries in Burke County. Jackson also serves on the board of the Burke County Concert Series and the Woodmen of the World.
Safiya Jeffress, technical services assistant, Covington Branch, Newton County Library System
Jeffers has been a part of the Newton County Library System team since 2018 as a post-retirement career choice. Though she had never worked in technical services, she quickly learned to do her job with quality and precision.
Eight months after she started, the Covington Branch went through a full renovation. One of Jeffers’ largest tasks was retrofitting the entire collection of 110,000 items to add radio-frequency identification tags (RFID). RFID uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to books and other items.
According to nominators Ann Davis, technical services coordinator, and Lace Keaton, library director, without her dedication and commitment, the library would have missed its opening date deadline.
Jeffers also is an advocate for the library in the community. She happily answers any questions and provides information, even when out on personal errands. She will ask parents if they know about library programs and suggest that they bring the kids to the library. She also actively assists with promoting a StoryWalk, one of the library’s biggest community partnerships.
Erica Luke, senior library specialist for youth services, Embry Hills Branch, DeKalb County Public Library
Erica Luke received many nominations from patrons who all emphasized her creative, welcoming, and caring nature. They noted that she creates wonderful programs that make the library a fun place for all ages. One young patron noted that Erica “has been very nice to me and made sure I got a black panther bracelet when I wasn’t able to attend the library’s event.”
Known as Ms. Erica by the patrons who go to her many programs, younger patrons look for and ask for her if she is not at her desk. Jackson, a young Embry Hills Library patron, shared “I love Ms. Erica’s library programs! First of all, we made posters and goody bags for the firefighters at Station 19. We made posters of the sea levels, and then we made an ocean in a bottle. She also provides games like chess, checkers, and lots of other good stuff.”
“Erica’s enthusiasm and dedication have sparked a lifelong love of learning and reading in many children,” said Alison Weissinger, director of the DeKalb County Public Library. “Her commitment to building childhood literacy and connecting with patrons on a personal level inspires everyone around her.”
The following individuals also received nominations for Public Library Employee of the Year:
- Abby Boatfield, Azalea Regional Library System
- Aaron Brown, Fulton County Library System
- April Cota-Hobbs, Cobb County Public Library System
- Katherin Crocker, Northwest Georgia Regional Library
- Laurie Eubanks, West Georgia Regional Library
- Karin Fulton, Flint River Regional Library
- Diana Graham, Marshes of Glynn Libraries
- Carrie Hall, DeSoto Trail Regional Library
- Dana Lance, Northwest Georgia Regional Library
- Sarah List, Athens Regional Library System
- Joane McGill, South Georgia Regional Library
- Melinda Miller, Marshes of Glynn Libraries
- Mari Mills, Lake Blackshear Regional Library
- Penny Mills, Athens Regional Library System
- Tracy Ralston, Henry County Library System
- Katie Rees, Flint River Regional Library
- Dana Seger, Azalea Regional Library System
- Jayshree Sheth, Fulton County Library System
- Edward Williams, Fulton County Library System