Advocate for the Libraries Set to Start New Chapter

Article excerpt

Eleven years after taking the helm of the Jacksonville

libraries, Judy Williams is ending a 25-year career that saw the

system through lean years to expansion. Although she kept a low

public profile, she earned a reputation for being an effective

advocate for library improvements.

Nearly half of the people in Jacksonville use city libraries,

but few recognize the woman who guided an evolution of services

over the past decade.

With a few exceptions, Judy Williams kept a low profile as

director of public libraries even as she fought to promote and

expand a system that offers something different for each

cardholder.

After 25 years, the 48-year-old Jacksonville native has had

enough.

Citing personal reasons, Williams announced this month she

would leave her post at the end of August.

"Twenty-five years," she said. ". . . I think that's a good

time to spend in any one place. . . . There's a lot to do out

there in the world."

The Board of Library trustees has started a search for her

successor.

"She's always been in the front lines for us," said Rick Jones,

chairman of the Jacksonville Public Libraries Foundation, a

volunteer group that secures donations for the system from

corporations and other large sponsors.

Jones echoed many library advocates in describing Williams as a

diligent advocate for library services -- which cover

recreational, educational and informational needs for nearly

400,000 cardholders.

"Everyone loves libraries but kind of takes them for granted,"

said Marian Elliott, president of the Friends of the

Jacksonville Public Libraries, a volunteer support group.

Although soft-spoken, Williams can be tough.

In her 11 years as director, she has fought for more money for

the library system, most notably in 1991 when she told Mayor Ed

Austin his proposed 3 percent cut in the library budget would

force her to close seven neighborhood branch libraries.

Outraged residents came out of the woodwork, sending

politicians scrambling for cover.

The City Council gave Williams enough money to keep the

libraries open. And the library system got to keep fees

collected on overdue and damaged books, money that previously

went into the city's general coffer.

Five years later, the library system still gets to keep its

fees. …