The Azalea Regional Library System that serves Walton County, with branches in Social Circle, Loganville and Monroe, has been recognized as 2021 Library of the Year for their “programming and services that demonstrate knowledge and care for their communities.”
Azalea Rgional Library System, headquartered in Madison, has nine member libraries serving about 175,000 residents in Greene, Hancock, Jasper, Morgan, Putnam as well as Walton counties.
“Azalea Regional Library System is extremely honored to be selected as Georgia’s Public Library of the Year,” AZRLS Executive Director Stacy Brown said in a press release. “So many people work together to support and promote our libraries, and this achievement would not be possible without the collective hard work, commitment, and heart for service demonstrated by our incredible staff, volunteers, and Trustees. We also appreciate our dedicated and supportive patrons, Friends of the Library groups, local funding agencies, and community partners. This recognition of our important work is a great accomplishment and one for which we can all be proud.”
Azalea Regional Library System is credited with re-imagining its services and programs during COVID-19 despite the limitations and obtaining grants and launching new services in communities that could otherwise not afford them.
These services are listed as:
- Launching the PLAY student library card in five of their six counties. Working through the Georgia Public Library Service, Azalea Regional Library System has given out more than 22,000 PINES Library Access for Youth (PLAY) cards so far. The PLAY card provides students with access to both physical and digital library materials, such as OverDrive and the Libby App, eRead Kids and GALILEO. Students can check out as many as five items at a time, and there are no late fees. PLAY also allows access directly from the classroom and teachers have the ability to utilize and incorporate library resources into their curriculum.
- Starting a Technology Lending Program to meet growing patron remote work and learning needs. Utilizing a Libraries Without Walls Tech Innovation Grant from Georgia Public Library Service, patrons can check out Chromebooks, Launchpads that are preloaded with learning apps, videos, and read-alongs for all ages, hotspots, and Osmos, which turns a tablet into a learning device for kids. Through these devices patrons can learn a new language or how to start a small business, enjoy story times, watch cooking demonstrations, explore math, science, and history, and much more.
- Growing pandemic services into permanent ways to serve patrons. Azalea’s curbside book pickup system, launched when libraries were closed due to the statewide shutdown, is now permanent. The service includes an online form to assist patrons with any questions as well as tips to select books and a LIVE chat service during business hours each day. The library also provides Tutor.com to help virtual learners and adult job seekers, with live one-to-one tutoring or career coaching available every day from 1-8 p.m.
- Connecting families with loved ones who are incarcerated. The Sparta-Hancock County Library’s Bee Kind Room allows families to connect to their loved ones who are incarcerated through a safe and secure space for tele-storytimes between children and their loved one in prison, resources to help cope with having a loved one in prison, and also a space for DFACS or foster families to meet. The library also has a prison library card arrangement with the Hancock State Prison that allows inmates to check out books. This program is funded by a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
- Feeding and clothing families in need. The O’Kelly Memorial Library in Loganville has partnered with Lady Butterflies and Claudine’s Closet to feed families and further literacy. Claudine’s Closet provided 300 backpacks, 150 masks, and 400 meals to families this year, and Lady Butterflies comes to the library monthly, where staff work together to distribute food and clothing. This partnership has allowed them to meet the needs of 1,078 adults and 1,513 children since June, providing the local community with 15,000 pounds of fresh food items, over 4,000 items of new clothing, and books.
Azalea Regional Library System is credited with addressing COVID-19 “thoughtfully and practically, keeping the health and safety of staff and patrons firmly in mind throughout the pandemic. Library staff kept communication open with funding agencies and the public with regard to closures or limited staffing hours.” The library system did lose an employee to COVID-19 in 2020. In response, the system brought on an Employee Assistance Program to provide free counseling and other services for staff and immediate family members and posted a comprehensive resource page on the system’s website providing information for local health resources and pandemic information.
“Ensuring the mental and physical health of our employees has been a top priority for our Administrative Team and Trustees,” Brown said.
Azalea Regional Library System received many support letters from elected and local officials from throughout their region showing their pride in the library system and appreciation for the work they do.