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Beloved librarian wins top national honor

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Book lovers in Georgetown County have known for years that they have an exceptional library director in Dwight McInvaill, but now they have confirmation.

In a ceremony today in New York, McInvaill will be named South Carolina’s first winner of the I Love My Librarian Award, which recognizes the impact librarians have on their communities and the people they serve. The award is presented annually to 10 librarians nationwide by the Carnegie Corporation and The New York Times.

The award came as a surprise to McInvaill, who said he doesn’t consider himself “particularly lovable.”

“But I am dedicated to making life better for our citizens,” McInvaill said. “We are living in a period of great technological and social change. Libraries need to continually innovate and to experiment to stay relevant and serve their communities. That is what we have tried to do at the Georgetown County Library.”

It was McInvaill’s dedication, energy and enthusiasm for that goal that led Geales Sands, executive director of the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation, to organize the group of community leaders and library users who nominated McInvaill for the award.

“He recognizes that libraries change lives and he strives every day to make that happen,” Sands said.

After a committee was formed, Virginia Smith, a former president of the Friends of the Waccamaw Library, was asked to head the effort.

Plans were to submit one application from several people, but the group ended up having folks submit individual applications for a greater impact.

Smith said she isn’t sure how many nominations McInvaill received.

“However it happened, it happened for the best, because he won,” she said.

Smith knows McInvaill through the Friends group, but also as a boss. She was the children’s librarian at the Waccamaw branch for two years.

“He’s a Renaissance man,” she said. “He’s the kind of man who can get along with kings and paupers. He can see a need in the community and in individuals, and try to meet those needs.

“Almost single-handedly he’s done what a lot of organizations can’t do in getting grants,” she continued. “He’s been pro-active in finding money wherever it’s available for the library system, and he juggles a very business-like job with a very personable attitude.”

McInvaill was hired to head the Georgetown County library system in 1996. Since then, he has brought an annual average of $300,000 in grant funds to the library and in the last year earned about $1.3 million in grants. He has also garnered national attention for Georgetown County through awards and the creation of a number of innovative library programs.

In 2007, the Georgetown County Library became the only library in the state to be recognized with a National Medal for Library Service by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“How truly amazing and wonderful that in 2007 Georgetown County was recognized as one of the top libraries in the country, and now it also has one of the top 10 librarians in the country,” said Trudy Bazemore, assistant library director. “For Georgetown County, this is huge and tremendous, but it is so much deserved. Dwight won’t tell you that; he’ll be humble and modest, but I’ll say it.”

Among the programs McInvaill is responsible for is a video gaming program introduced in 2006 at the Carvers Bay branch to encourage kids and teens to read and check out materials from their library.

The same year, the program was held up as an example to libraries around the country by Webjunction, an online resource for libraries that is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The program was so successful, it has been expanded to include other county branches.

With the use of grant funding, the library also created a digital library to preserve and make available to the public local historical documents, including photos, maps and 19th century newspapers. The digital library makes those documents accessible for free to Internet users around the world.

The county’s illiteracy rate, which is approaching 30 percent, led the library to work with Georgetown County First Steps to establish mini-libraries at 40 child care centers. The library also developed a special curriculum library storytellers use to teach children basic language and motor skills.

Those projects won the library the first Counties Care for Kids Award, which is given by the National Association of Counties.

The library has also taken on a number of public service projects, including one this year that taught hurricane awareness, and another that preserved the memories of World War II veterans through oral history interviews.

“I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of that award than Dwight,” said Nancy Altman, a library board member.

“He is just outstanding and he dedicates himself to the job. He’s done so much and we’re so fortunate to have him.”

Though stunned, McInvaill was honored and excited at news of the award and the $5,000 prize that comes with it. But he said the most important thing is that it will highlight the library’s projects.

In his acceptance speech today, McInvaill said he plans to make a promise to Georgetown County residents that he and other library staff will continue to strive for excellence and innovation.

“I can promise that we will not rest on our laurels, but roll up our shirtsleeves and keep working for them,” he said.

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