2020 Public Library Champion of the Year

2020 Public Library Champion of the Year


Click here for press release PDF

Jan. 8, 2021

Georgia Public Library Service is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020 Georgia Public
Library Awards, which honor the people and places that have made a profound difference in their
communities through public libraries.


“I’m so proud of our library staff and supporters across the state, who, despite the challenges of
operating during a global pandemic, found new ways to help patrons access books, resources,
internet, and so much more,” said State Librarian Julie Walker. “Their efforts to ensure that our
libraries were able to continue and enhance their meaningful, vital work have allowed Georgians to
achieve their goals at any stage in life. It is clear that public libraries remain at the heart of Georgia’s
communities.”


Award winners are selected from nominations submitted by library patrons, trustees, Friends, and
staff, showcasing the best and brightest who serve in public libraries throughout the state. This year
marked the most nominations ever received, reflecting the significant impact libraries have had in
their communities.

PUBLIC LIBRARY CHAMPION OF THE YEAR

Georgia’s Public Library Champion of the Year is Dr. Steve Whatley, former board chair and
longtime trustee at the Newton County Library System. Dr. Whatley was an educator for more than
36 years, including serving as Superintendent of Newton County School District prior to his
retirement in 2010. Champion of the year is presented to an outstanding advocate who is not
employed by a public library, but whose support significantly raised the profile of libraries and
improved services.


“Over the past 10 years, the library system has faced severe budget cuts, two recessions, a pandemic
and a series of staff layoffs,” said Lace Keaton, director of the Newton County Library System.
“During this time, Dr. Whatley’s steadfast leadership successfully guided us through many difficult
days. On each and every occasion, he was well prepared, on time, and knowledgeable about all
library issues.”


Keaton recalled one time when the budget didn’t allow the purchase of needed new library chairs,
and Dr. Whatley led a project to refinish 121 chairs by recruiting volunteers, supervising the process,
and laboring every day for four hours over six weeks.


This year, Dr. Whatley guided the library board through important decisions to continue meeting
community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. His advocacy and leadership efforts on behalf of
the library remained steady until he and his wife both contracted COVID-19. Dr. Whatley’s wife of
over 50 years, Maryilynn, succumbed to the illness in September and, while Dr. Whatley recovered,
the ordeal led him to step down from the board.


“Even this gesture demonstrates his status as a library champion, as it reflects his sincere belief that
the role — that he loves and personally needs more than ever — deserves more than he is able to
bring to it under the circumstances,” said Read Gignilliat, library supporter and attorney.