2016 ALA Award Winners

Honoring excellence and leadership in the library profession

September 1, 2016

2016 ALA Award Winners

The American Library Association (ALA) recognizes the achievements of more than 200 individuals and institutions each year with a variety of awards. This year’s award winners, chosen by juries of their colleagues and peers, are distinguished by their leadership and vision, as well as their continued commitment to diversity, equality, and intellectual freedom. This selection represents only a portion of those honored in 2016; see more award winners at ala.org/awardsgrants.


Kelvin WatsonKelvin Watson

ERNEST A. DIMATTIA JR. AWARD FOR INNOVATION AND SERVICE TO COMMUNITY AND PROFESSION of $5,000 recognizes a public librarian who demonstrates leadership in anticipating emerging trends in services, products, and technologies that will enhance the library’s position in its community. Donor: The DiMattia Family

Watson, chief innovation and technology officer of Queens (N.Y.) Library, has brought many new services and ideas to both the library and the community that emphasize convenience for patrons and work to reduce the digital divide. He leads the team that distributes and manages 2,500 mobile hot spots and 5,000 tablets. Watson led the strategy and planned the execution of the Queens Virtual Library, which allows seamless access, discovery, and delivery of e-content. Additionally, he supervised the library’s first hip-hop initiative, an effort to archive and preserve the borough’s musical heritage. Watson is president of the Black Caucus of ALA. He also serves on the New York State Library’s Regents Advisory Council on Libraries and the Metropolitan New York Library Council board and is a lecturer at Queens College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies.


Maureen SullivanMaureen Sullivan

JOSEPH W. LIPPINCOTT AWARD of $1,000 is presented annually to a librarian for distinguished service to the profession of librarianship, such service to include outstanding participation in the activities of the professional library association, notable published professional writing, or other significant activity on behalf of the profession and its aims.
Donor: Joseph W. Lippincott III

Sullivan’s many accomplishments include service as president of ALA (2012–2013) and two of its divisions—the Library Leadership and Management Association (1988–1989) and the Association of College and Research Libraries ­(1998–­1999). As ALA president, she focused on the training program for community engagement, developed in partnership with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, under the theme “The Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities.” Sullivan has also served as interim dean and professor of practice at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science; as founder of the Library Leaders in a Digital Age program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; as a faculty member of the annual Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians, developed through ACRL’s partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and as facilitator of the TALL Texans Leadership Development Institute. She is program facilitator and cochair of the ALA Emerging Leaders program.


Robert NewlenRobert R. Newlen

MELVIL DEWEY MEDAL and $2,000 are awarded for creative professional achievement in library management, training, cataloging and classification, or the tools and techniques of librarianship. Donor: OCLC

Newlen joined the Library of Congress in 1975 and has served in many roles, including positions at the Congressional Research Service, the Law Library of Congress, and his current appointment as chief of staff. He managed the Law Library’s development and fundraising initiatives and oversaw its 2014 exhibition “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.” Newlen served as a member of ALA Council and Executive Board and as senior trustee of the ALA Endowment. He has also mentored new librarians through his book Résumé Writing and Interviewing Techniques That Work! A How-to-Do-It Manual for Librarians, his presentations, and his continuing role as an inspirational figure to new professionals.


Melanie Townsend DiggsMelanie Townsend Diggs

LEMONY SNICKET PRIZE FOR NOBLE LIBRARIANS FACED WITH ADVERSITY annually recognizes a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact. The honoree receives $10,000 and an odd object from Daniel Handler’s private collection. Donor: Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)

On April 27, 2015, unrest broke out in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, resulting in fires and overturned cars. Much of the damage occurred just outside the doors of Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Pennsylvania Avenue branch. Branch Manager Melanie Townsend Diggs helped at least 30 patrons and staff members exit the library safely that day; she and library CEO Carla Hayden then decided to open the library as usual the next day. Patrons returned in the morning with flowers and pastries for the staff, reporters covering the events stopped in to charge batteries, and one young man filled out a job application online—he came back the next day to say he got an interview. Townsend Diggs described it as a typical day for the library’s role as a light in the community, the pathway to resources, and access to a world of possibilities.


Accepted by Chris Cairo (left), director of programming and project development, and Jackie Nytes, chief executive officer
Accepted by Chris Cairo (left), director of programming and project development, and Jackie Nytes, chief executive officer

Indianapolis Public Library

ALA/INFORMATION TODAY, INC. LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE AWARD of $1,500 honors a library, library consortium, group of librarians, or support organization for innovative planning for, applications of, or development of patron training programs about information technology in a library setting. Donor: Information Today, Inc.

The eBook Tinker Stations at Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) branches display different e-readers that patrons can test to find the right style for their needs and offer one-on-one support for patrons as they download items from the library’s collections of ebooks, e-audiobooks, and streaming videos and music. IndyPL developed the Tinker Stations in response to an increased demand for ebooks in 2012. The stations were originally conceived with seniors as the target audience but rapidly expanded to include users of various ages and cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The portable ebook stations regularly travel to 23 Indianapolis branch libraries, in both urban and suburban areas. The project has grown to attract a younger audience interested in greater usability and new applications.


R. David LankesR. David Lankes

KEN HAYCOCK AWARD FOR PROMOTING LIBRARIANSHIP of $1,000 honors an individual for contributing significantly to the public recognition and appreciation of librarianship through professional performance, teaching, and/or writing. Donor: Ken Haycock

Lankes is author of The Atlas of New Librarianship (MIT Press, 2011) and The New Librarianship Field Guide (MIT Press, 2016). He is a curriculum developer and speaker for the ILEAD (Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply, and Discover) USA program, a continuing education initiative that expands librarians’ leadership abilities and develops their technological skills. Lankes is professor and Dean’s Scholar for New Librarianship at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and 2016–2017 Follett Chair in Library and Information Sciences at Dominican University Graduate School of Library and Information Science. He has also served as a visiting fellow at the National Library of Canada, an adjunct instructor for the OCLC Institute, and a visiting scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was the first ALA Office of Information Technology Policy fellow.


Accepted by Chris Cox, dean of library services
Accepted by Chris Cox, dean of library services

Rod Library | University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls

GALE CENGAGE LEARNING FINANCIAL DEVELOPMENT AWARD of $2,500 is presented to a library organization that exhibits meritorious achievement in creating new means of funding for a public or academic library. Donor: Gale Cengage, Inc.

Rod Library developed a campaign on the University of Northern Iowa’s PAWprint crowdfunding platform, complete with a tongue-in-cheek video, Northern Iowa Jones and the Quest for the Surface Hub. The library used a wide variety of electronic marketing techniques to bring its efforts to the attention of potential donors and maintained ongoing updates to supporters about its progress. The creative campaign helped Rod Library beat its financial goal by 14%, with contributions from 76% of the library staff. The funds went toward the purchase of a Microsoft Surface Hub for the library’s Learning Commons. Committee members commended Rod Library for its clear explanation of its fund­raising efforts, its use of viral PR, and its innovative use of crowdfunding as a vehicle. Library staffers enjoyed learning about this new platform as a fundraising tool despite its challenges.


Accepted by Laurie Stark, departmental coordinator
Accepted by Laurie Stark, departmental coordinator

Michigan Technological University Library | Houghton

H. W. WILSON LIBRARY STAFF DEVELOPMENT GRANT awards $3,500 to a library that demonstrates merit in a staff development program that furthers the goals and objectives of the library organization.
Donor: H. W. Wilson Company

This grant will allow the staff at Michigan Technological University’s Van Pelt and Opie Library to develop a multifaceted workshop series, “Empowering Library Staff to Lead Confidently and Plan Effectively,” that will promote professional learning and foster leadership skills. Upon completion, staff will be fully empowered to provide service and conduct their work with the highest level of confidence and knowledge. The program is designed to support its commitment to embed lean thinking into library culture by giving staff the skills to be responsive, effective, and innovative within their roles, thus providing better customer service, job satisfaction, and improved experiences for patrons and colleagues. Because of the university’s isolated location in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which makes professional development travel difficult, two local libraries have also been invited to participate in the program.


Nicole A. CookeNicole A. Cooke

EQUALITY AWARD of $1,000 honors an outstanding contribution that promotes equality in the library profession.
Donor: Scarecrow Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group

Cooke is assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and a faculty affiliate at the Center for Digital Inclusion. She was one of the first 12 ALA Spectrum doctoral fellows. Throughout her career, Cooke has been a passionate advocate for equity and has spearheaded diversity initiatives within the Association for Library and Information Science Education and at UIUC. Cooke has published extensively and has a dedicated, social justice–oriented approach to her teaching, both of which indicate the far-reaching impact that her personal commitment to equality has on the rest of the profession as well as on future colleagues. Cooke has been a staunch champion for inclusion and has led the charge in changing the education of librarians to make them better able to serve underserved or unserved patrons, particularly people of color.


Accepted by Carolyn Anthony (left), retired director, and Amita Lonial, learning experiences manager
Accepted by Carolyn Anthony (left), retired director, and Amita Lonial, learning experiences manager

Skokie (Ill.) Public Library

ALA EXCELLENCE IN LIBRARY PROGRAMMING AWARD of $5,000 recognizes a library that demonstrates excellence in library programming by creating a cultural/thematic program type or program series that engages the community in planning, sponsorship, and/or active participation, addresses an identified community need, and has measurable impact. Donor: ALA Cultural Communities Fund

The Skokie (Ill.) Public Library’s 2015 “Voices of Race” programs were part of its annual “Coming Together” series, which highlights the diverse ethnic and racial communities in Skokie and Niles Township. Skokie’s residents speak more than 90 languages, and its population is more than 40% foreign-born. “Voices of Race” featured more than 70 events—including theatrical performances, lectures, and book discussions—anchored by a traveling exhibit called “Race: Are We So Different?” hosted by the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. More than 8,000 people from Skokie and the surrounding area attended programs in the “Voices of Race” series, and more than 60% said that this was their first time attending a “Coming Together” event. Nearly 75% of respondents indicated that the event they attended inspired them to take action or make a change.


Annabelle K. StephensAnnabel K. Stephens

BETA PHI MU AWARD of $1,000 is for distinguished service to education for librarianship. Donor: Beta Phi Mu International Library Science Honorary Society

Stephens, associate professor emerita of the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama, has spent her career committed to public library service and equity throughout the Southeast. Her devotion to teaching generations of librarians has made her a prominent leader in the field. She has published two books and has written and contributed to numerous articles and other publications focused on public library services and collections, particularly citizen and staff participation in planning, and the history and development of Alabama public libraries. In 2006, the Alabama Library Association gave Stephens its Eminent Librarian Award for her exceptional and enduring contribution to the development of library service within Alabama, and its Lifetime Achievement Award. Stephens was inducted into the 2015 University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame.


Sheila UmbergerSheila Umberger

SULLIVAN AWARD FOR PUBLIC LIBRARY ADMINISTRATORS SUPPORTING SERVICES TO CHILDREN is given to an individual who has shown exceptional understanding and support of public library service to children while having general management, supervisory, or administrative responsibility that has included public service for children in its scope. Donor: Peggy Sullivan

Umberger joined Roanoke (Va.) Public Library in 1982, becoming library director in 2004. As director, she helped develop innovative programs such as free book distribution and “Feed and Read,” a summer meal program for low-income kids. Under her leadership, children’s programs have expanded to include STEM, art, and music activities, and the number of youth services programs increased from 118 to 3,392 per year. She also oversaw the expansion and enhancement of library spaces for children to include a play area, a programming mezzanine, and a two-story slide. With Star City Reads, Roanoke’s part of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the library collaborates with a dozen partners, ranging from Virginia Tech to the Roanoke Police Department. In 2015 Star City Reads launched “Books on Buses,” a mobile lending library available on three city bus lines.


Ralph PetersRalph Peters

W. Y. BOYD LITERARY AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MILITARY FICTION of $5,000 is given to the author of a
military novel that honors the service of American veterans during a time of war. Donor: William Young Boyd II

Valley of the Shadow by Ralph Peters details the military action that took place in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the critical year of 1864, when the armies of the North and South met in bitter conflict for control of the valley. The author’s retelling of this Civil War military campaign is rich in detail and examines the personalities of the major and minor characters who took part in it. The novel aptly describes military tactics, military leadership, and battles fought, and Peters’s strongest trait is to bring the history and historical figures to life on the pages of his novels. Valley of the Shadow is a major contribution to writing about the Civil War. Peters is the first three-time winner of the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award.


Nancy BoltNancy Bolt

ELIZABETH FUTAS CATALYST FOR CHANGE AWARD of $1,000 is given biennially to an individual for making positive changes in the profession of librarianship. Donor: Elizabeth Futas Memorial Fund

Bolt, president of Nancy Bolt and Associates and retired Colorado state librarian, has been a thoughtful and effective leader whose work is infused with creativity, calculated risk-taking, and skilled strategic planning. Bolt cocreated the ALA-Allied Professional Association Library Support Staff Certification Program and chaired the first ALA E-Rate Task Force. As Colorado state librarian, Bolt reorganized and improved the regional library system in the face of significant budget cuts. She also championed the Colorado Library Card, a collaboration among public, academic, and school libraries. She has held numerous leadership positions in state, national, and international organizations, including the Colorado Library Association, Public Library Association, and Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies. She served on the ALA Executive Board and ALA Council and held numerous roles in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), including as a member of the IFLA Governing Board.


Tracey WongTracey Wong

SCHOLASTIC LIBRARY PUBLISHING AWARD of $1,000 honors a librarian whose unusual contribution to promoting access to books and encouraging a love of reading for lifelong learning exemplify outstanding achievement in the profession. Donor: Scholastic Library Publishing

Wong is a school library media specialist for the Daniel Webster Magnet School in New Rochelle, New York. While new to librarianship, her efforts throughout her career have been directed toward supporting literacy and encouraging reading by children and young people. In three years she obtained just under $1 million in program funding, resources, technology, and learning opportunities for three different schools. She works to incorporate the interdisciplinary use of technology to promote transliteracy (the ability to understand and communicate or be literate across all communication platforms, including sign language, speech, reading, writing, mass media, and social media) to support and advance low-level readers and English-language learners. Wong was named a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Regional Lead for 2015–2016. She has authored several articles and presented training programs on how to obtain grants.


From left: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Teresa Toten, Sean Qualls, and Laurie Ann Thompson
From left: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Teresa Toten, Sean Qualls, and Laurie Ann Thompson
SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS of $5,000 honor authors or illustrators for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for children and adolescent audiences. Recipients are selected in three categories: young readers (ages 0–8), middle readers (ages 9–13), and teen readers (ages 14–18). Donor: Katherine Schneider

Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, written by Thompson and illustrated by Qualls, won the award for young children. Against almost insurmountable odds, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, born with only one strong leg, sets out to ride his bike 400 miles across Ghana to raise awareness for people with disabilities. The stunning mixed-media art supports this uplifting and inspiring story.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Brubaker Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life won the awards for best middle-grade titles. In Fish in a Tree, Ally moves through multiple elementary schools without learning to read by using her strengths in math and art along with some behavior distractions. When a new teacher discovers Ally has dyslexia, he uses patience and sensitivity to build up her confidence as well as her ability to read.

In The War That Saved My Life, set during World War II, Ada is a resourceful character who slowly and believably makes accommodations for her untreated club foot. Descriptions of her growth as a character, her acceptance by the villagers, and the home she and her brother make with Susan, their sponsor, are both heartfelt and powerful.

Teresa Toten

The teen award winner is The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, written by Toten. In Room 13B a support group for young adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder meets each week. Here an unlikely band of “superheroes” led by their own “Batman,” Adam, works together to confront personal struggles and discover the inner strength to keep moving forward.

Update September 6, 2016: Corrected to note that Sheila Umberger works for the Roanoke Public Library.