Alan Harkness Named Library Director of the Year By The Georgia Public Library Service
(Columbus, GA) - Alan Harkness has been named Georgia Public Library Director of the Year.Under his leadership, the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, based in Columbus, became the first library system in Georgia to eliminate fines for overdue materials, and he continues to be a strong advocate for fines free programs. The Georgia Public Library Service announced the news today in an official press release honoring the 2023 Georgia Public Library Awards which celebrate public libraries and their champions who have made a profound difference in their communities.
Harkness has served Georgia public libraries for more than 30 years including as regional director of Piedmont Regional Library System and assistant state librarian for library development at Georgia Public Library Service. In 2013, he became the director of Chattahoochee Valley Libraries where he oversees the regional library system that serves a population of 250,000 through seven facilities, two bookmobiles, and two automated 24-hour library kiosks spread across Chattahoochee, Marion, Muscogee, and Stewart counties.
Harkness is known for being an early advocate for the elimination of fines in Georgia public libraries. “This is something that other libraries were doing nationally, but I didn’t think it would work here because we thought we needed the revenue from book fines. When a colleague, a former library director, sent me all the data from their fines free campaign in Utah, it really opened my eyes,” said Harkness. “When I saw the projected real impact on the community versus revenue, I realized it was something that would benefit our library and became very excited about it!” Harkness worked to educate the library’s board members and stakeholders about the benefits of being fines free, including increased access to library materials and reduced barriers for patrons who had stopped using the library due to fines.
In 2019, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries became the first library in the state to eliminate fines for overdue materials. “Immediately, staff started seeing people return to the library or get a library card; they were excited with us. It was really a rare opportunity in one’s career, when you see the impacts almost immediately,” said Harkness. “And once the data started rolling in, with the wonderful anecdotes, it cemented that we made the right decision.”
Since the library implemented its fines free program, it has experienced an increase in cardholder sign-ups as well as in activity among occasional and recently-lapsed users. In the first year after going fines free, the library saw a 34% increase in new card sign-ups and an 11% increase in circulations over a four-month period compared to the previous year.
Harkness is known for his willingness to share what he has learned, especially the essential data collected during the process of going fines free. He has met with library boards and staff across the state encouraging other libraries to evaluate the possibility of implementing fines free programs. Harkness received several nomination letters from current Georgia public library system directors who recognized his leadership in the fines free movement.
“Going fines free is a compassionate act. It makes sense that Alan would lead such a movement. Piedmont Regional Library System is now fines-free largely thanks to his leading the way,” said Beth McIntyre, director of Piedmont Regional Library System. “He has always been available for encouragement and advice. His observations are thoughtful and accurate. He is never satisfied with the status quo and is always looking for ways to improve.”
“Strong public libraries are essential to a prosperous state, and this year’s honorees showcase the vital role that public libraries play in post-pandemic recovery, competitiveness, and resilience throughout Georgia,” said Vice Chancellor for Archives and Libraries and State Librarian Julie Walker. “Our public libraries are a model of collaboration, innovation, and excellence.” Award winners are selected from nominations submitted by library patrons, trustees, Friends of Libraries groups, and staff, showcasing the best and brightest who serve in public libraries throughout the state.
When asked about receiving the award Harkness said, ”I’m humbled to receive this prestigious honor. I’m really glad that our library system leaned into something challenging, and made a difference for so many in our community. We couldn’t have done this without the vision and support of our great library boards. Making libraries accessible for larger segments of our population benefits everyone. Stronger libraries everywhere directly translates into stronger communities. Like any other worthwhile project, this was a team approach, which took us a year of planning. We have fabulous staff who bought into the vision early and was willing to work out all the necessary structure and details. Our customers have loved that we’re fines free, and as a result, our library cardholder signups have increased, as has our retention rate and circulation. It’s been a win-win for everyone here in the Chattahoochee Valley.”
A local celebration is planned for Feb. 12, 2024, from 12pm-2pm at the Columbus Public Library. The event is free and open to the public. For more information contact Chattahoochee Valley Libraries at (706) 243-2673 or email@example.com