Advocate for the Libraries Set to Start New Chapter
MacDonald, Mary, The Florida Times Union
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
After 25 years, the 48-year-old Jacksonville native has had
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
"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
"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