by Roy Cummings

“Everybody wants to be heard. People just want somebody to help them, to listen. People need someone to be interested in them.”

And by listening and connecting to her library’s community, Natorra Moody has made an impact in unexpected ways. Because of this, Moody is the recipient of the first Library Employee of the Year Award from Georgia Public Library Service.

Moody is the branch manager at Alma-Bacon County Public Library, part of the Okefenokee Regional Library System. The city of Alma is located in the southeast corner of Georgia and has a population of a little more than 3,400. It is the nucleus of Bacon County, and while small and rural, Alma is home to a close-knit, caring community.

“It’s important to build a rapport with the people you serve. You can’t just help them and send them out the door. You have to get to know them,” says Moody. “When patrons see that you are genuinely interested in them and their lives, they are comfortable being vulnerable and honest about the help they really need. And that’s when we can step in and help fill the gap.”

One of Moody’s most well-received initiatives is Project Prom, where the library provides prom dresses to those who need them.

“Attending prom is a highlight for most high school girls,” Moody says, “but the dresses are so expensive, and affording one is a barrier for many students, especially in our community. Thanks to the generosity of people in and near our community, we are able to secure dresses and accessories that we can give the girls.”

But this opportunity to dress the community is not limited to prom season.

“We once had someone from a local school reach out because they needed help preparing students for an academic competition in California,” Moody shared. “Between the cost of airfare and lodging, they couldn’t afford dresses for a part of the event. We recognized that this was a great opportunity for girls, so we gave them dresses to use. To our surprise, they cleaned the dresses and returned them to us when they were done.”

The students told Moody that they wanted to pay it forward to the next person who might need the same support.

“It might seem trivial to some, but making these dresses available helps some of our patrons look and feel beautiful and can relieve at least one burden our families face,” said Moody. “That can free up mental space they can use on other things that will help them succeed.”

The Project Prom loan program is open to high school girls in Bacon and surrounding counties.

Providing prom dresses isn’t the only way Natorra and the library help their community get ready to be their best.

natorra moody shows off items on community shelf

Moody shows off items on her library’s Community Shelf. Community members donate toiletries like soap or toothpaste, and others can take items as needed from the shelf with no questions asked.

“When patrons see that you are genuinely interested in them and their lives, they are comfortable being vulnerable and honest about the help they really need. And that’s when we can step in and help fill the gap.”  – Natorra Moody

“We are a very rural area, and we have lost a lot of jobs in the last couple of years,” she said. “People are actively searching for employment, and being well-groomed can play a part in their success. We want to help them have the confidence needed in the job market.”

She established a Community Shelf at the library, where community members can donate toiletries like soap or toothpaste. People can take these items as needed from the shelf with no questions asked. If they  need more or something different than what’s readily available on the shelf, they can ask Natorra and she will put together a package for them.

Natorra also makes sure her library provides other resources.

“It’s important to help the library connect with patrons in ways that help them expand their minds,” Moody said. One way that happens is through library story time.

“I enjoy reading to children,” said Moody. “One of the most rewarding feelings is watching their faces as their little minds make connections with the words I’m reading. Children are very curious about the world around them, and it’s a privilege to have our library play such an important part in their development.”

Natorra has led efforts to make the library a place where readers of all ages and interests can find something to read and enjoy.

When she began managing the branch, most of the books in the collection were by white male authors. There were few titles by Black authors and none by Latino or Asian writers. There also were no graphic novels.

After some initial pushback to the additions to the collection, patrons have responded favorably to the diversity.

“The goal wasn’t to replace any particular kind of author but to introduce readers to the many great works that are out there,” said Moody. “You never know who could be inspired to become an author based on the books they see on the library’s shelves.”

Whether it’s through providing dresses, toiletries, or diverse books, Moody’s commitment to elevating her community is personal.

“I was born and raised in Alma, Georgia,” she said. “My mother worked two jobs when I was a child, so I would always come to this library after school and just hang out. I’ve been spending time in this building since I was 8 or 9 years old, so it made sense to work here. I’ve been a volunteer, a clerk, and worked my way up to branch manager.”

While being in the physical library played a role, there are also people who have influenced Natorra’s path.

“Ms. Freddie Ann Taylor was my library lady as a child,” said Moody. “She would always say ‘the library is for everybody,’ and she was kind to everybody. Ms. Theresa Anderson trained me, and she instilled the idea that we are here to help people. Even if someone isn’t quite sure of what they need, it’s our job to do what we can to help them figure it out. That’s what I try to do.”

Natorra also credits her library system’s director, Martha Powers-Jones, with helping her understand that it’s not always necessary to dismiss an idea because it doesn’t seem doable. “She’s never told me that we can’t do something, but instead, she encourages me to focus on how something might be done. Sometimes you need to think outside the box.”

And it is this strategIc and creative approach to service, as well as meaningful programs like Project Prom and the Community Shelf, that keeps Moody connected to her community. 

Read more about all our 2021 Georgia Public Library Awards winners.