Asbell Named Library Director Of The Year
The Georgia Public Library System has named Ohoopee Regional Library System Director Cameron Asbell as the 2023 Director of the Year.
“There are many outstanding directors and staff within Georgia public libraries, and continued from page
I am honored to work with them,” Asbell remarked. “Their dedication and passion inspire me to do my best. A public library should be a place where everyone finds something of themselves and fosters a sense of belonging. It is the heart of the community it serves, and my goal every day is to make sure people know we are here for them.”
This award came after nominations by several library trustees, patrons, community leaders, staff, and volunteers, who all shared their appreciation and admiration for Asbell for the tremendous improvement she has made in the local libraries.
“An organization does not make the paradigm shift we have seen at the Ohoopee Library System without a dedicated captain,” said nominator Senator Blake Tillery. “Cameron Asbell has been that captain for this community. She has made multiple sacrifices personally to meet the local library’s budgets, maintain staff, and grow programs. Cameron has certainly made an impact on our community, and I know this organization would also benefit from recognizing such a true public servant.”
Most recently, Asbell led supporters of the Toombs- Montgomery Public Library in gaining fundraising and support for the facility’s renovation, which is expected to be completed this March.
“On my first day as director, I walked into the building and thought it hadn’t opened yet,” said Asbell. “There were no patrons, and the lights were so dim, I didn’t realize they were on.” Staff had attached adhesive, motion-sensitive lights to the bookstacks just to see the titles. “On my second day, I had to put a tarp on the bookshelves to protect them from rain coming through the leaky roof. I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” When she became the director in 2016, the system was in a turbulent time. Board members had resigned, and several directors had left after brief intervals. The community didn’t support its library, and it showed. According to Asbell, one resident suggested that the best thing that could happen to the library was to bulldoze it and build a business so there would be something of value on the lot.
Asbell shared that her visit with the library board and community leaders to talk about the library did not seem promising. “We were not well-received,” she said. “They kept saying things like, ‘the library makes promises and doesn’t keep them.’ I spent the next few years applying for every grant I could, making updates, and following through. We created a STEM room and received a grant to fix the lights. Then I would visit funder offices to tell them what we did. By now they knew my face. I worked to change the library’s culture. I would ask my staff, ‘What does it cost you to say yes?’” Through this effort, she not only stabilized the library and restored the confidence of large donors, but also served as a persistent advocate for renovations to meet the needs of the community and programming to encourage the community to come inside their local library.
“Cameron cultivated programming, increased visitor volume at the current facility, and gained the support of board members for big plans,'' explained Tillery. “Once all the puzzle pieces were assembled, Cameron announced a major new project — a complete rebuild and consolidation of the Vidalia Library and the Ladson Genealogy Library. The idea, which was discussed for about a decade and started and failed once, now received backing from patrons, donors, and all local governments because she understood how to devise and command a process.”
The renovated library, known now as the Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library, includes a teaching kitchen, Spark Lab for weekly kids’ programming, study rooms with smartboards, and movable shelves so the space can be adjusted as needs change.
“So many people in the community are excited about this project,” commented Asbell on the renovation. “Voters are telling our local legislators that the library is important and valuable, and they are listening.” Her passion for the library has not slowed down since beginning the renovation project, as Asbell now manages a fundraising campaign to extend the hours of the Nelle Brown Memorial Library in Lyons, Georgia.
“To use a sports analogy, I feel like we have gone from last to first,” said Friends of the Library Group Member Gary Campbell. “Cameron has been instrumental in making this happen. Cameron is passionate about her work and is committed to excellence, and this passion shows up in her motivated and effective staff. It also has shown up in the increased usage of our library during her tenure. As a community volunteer, I am once again proud of our library.”
Library Trustee Brian Bishop echoed similar sentiments to those of Campbell. “Cameron is a timeless warrior for the public library system. She does everything with enthusiasm and a smile on her face,” he emphasized.
Asbell has been an employee of the Ohoopee Regional Library System since 2015, and has served as the system’s director since 2016. Prior to joining the local library system, she began her library career as a library clerk at the UGA Library on the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College campus in Tifton. She continued at Statesboro Regional Public Library System as a part-time circulation clerk and worked her way up to the position of director of IT and Technical Services.
In 2017, she completed the PINNACLE leadership training program and the Georgia Public Libraries Financial Management Certification program. She has bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University and a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Valdosta State University as part of the Libraries Build Communities scholarship cohort.
The Ohoopee Regional Library System plans to celebrate both Asbell and the completed Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library in April. More details will be shared about this ceremony at a later date.