I Love My Librarian Awards

Highlights from this year’s ceremony

January 25, 2020

Homa Naficy at the 2020 I Love My Librarian Award Ceremony
Homa Naficy speaking at the 2020 I Love My Librarian Award Ceremony. Photo: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

For the first time, the American Library Association (ALA) presented the annual I Love My Librarian Awards in a ceremony at the Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits. The awards honor 10 librarians per year for outstanding service.

This year’s recipients include three academic, three public, and four school librarians, each nominated by peers and patrons and chosen from nearly 2,000 submissions. The event was livestreamed on Facebook.

ALA President Wanda Kay Brown opened the event with a tribute to the honorees. “Their stories are a testament to the profound leadership, compassion, and expertise of librarians nationwide,” she said.

I Love My Librarian Committee Chair and ALA Immediate Past President Loida Garcia-Febo noted that only 120 librarians have been honored with this award in the 10 years since its inception and recognized past winners in attendance. “They’ve worked to make their libraries spaces where people of all backgrounds feel like they belong,” she said. “These librarians rock!”

Caryl Matute, deputy director of branch libraries and education at New York Public Library (NYPL), said librarians and library workers will go down the rabbit holes to find information for patrons, work in schools and community parks, drive bookmobiles, work with the incarcerated, and console families at the border. “This award acknowledged the fact that librarians change lives,” she said.

Author Kate Klise and illustrator M. Sarah Klise came to the podium to share how their new book, Don’t Check Out This Book! (Workman, March), was inspired by Cathy Evans, one of this year’s winners. Evans started a “green dot collection” of books on sensitive or controversial topics at her school’s library. To protect their privacy, students can take the books without checking them out, as long as they agree to return them. “We would not be here without public librarians, school librarians, and our brother the librarian,” Kate Klise said.

Meet the winners

Kathryn Roots Lewis, immediate past president of the American Association of School Librarians, presented the awards for the four school librarians.

One nominator described Stephanie Dannehl, school librarian and tech integration specialist at Bertrand (Neb.) Community School as “an amazing example of what a 21st century school library can be.”

“When I hear the word librarian, I think of one word: opportunity,” Dannehl said. Her small town of 750 residents has no public library, so she wanted to provide as many opportunities for students as possible, including state-of-the-art tools like mixed-reality headsets, architecture software, and 3D printers.

Cathy Evans at the 2020 I Love My Librarian Award Ceremony
Cathy Evans. Photo: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

Evans, library director at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, Tennessee, began her career 47 years ago and is retiring at the end of this school year. The green dot collection started 16 years ago from meetings with the school’s guidance counselor on topics important at the all-girls school, including cutting, hair pulling, addictions, bullying, body image, and eating disorders. The collection is now part of the school’s culture, and Evans said she wants to leave legacy of green dots for other libraries.

Lewis said colleagues of Melissa Glanden, librarian at Powhatan (Va.) High School, call her an “evangelibrarian” because of her enthusiasm for her work. She converted the school’s makerspace into hub of activity and outreach to readers at all levels and worked with the carpentry classes to build Little Free Libraries around Powhatan. “I didn’t find a library career right away, but it eventually found me,” said Glanden, who began her career in education. “If you don’t have a school librarian, fight for one.”

Tracie Walker-Reed, library media specialist at H. Grady Spruce High School in Dallas, said one of her fondest memories of childhood is her mom taking her to the bookmobile. At her large high school, she said just meeting the needs of students and staff can be overwhelming, but it stretches her to learn new things and think creatively. “It is an honor to be recognized for something that I love doing,” she said.

Lauren Pressley, immediate past president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, introduced the awardees from academic libraries.

Jesús Alonso-Regalado at the 2020 I Love My Librarian Award Ceremony
Jesús Alonso-Regalado. Photo: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

Jesús Alonso-Regalado, subject librarian for history, Latin American studies, and romance languages at University at Albany, New York, called libraries this country’s best public service. “We all have librarians we love, and if you don’t, go find one,” he said. He dedicated his award to librarians who work in their communities, and to those who are from other countries. He advocated for changing the catalog heading “illegal aliens,” even if libraries can only do it at the local level.

Pressley said a nominator for Mary Anne Hansen, research services librarian at Montana State University in Bozeman, described her as a leader in the tribal college community because she is constantly listening and learning. “I feel like I won the lottery when I became the librarian at Montana State University,” Hansen said. She added that her biggest passion is the library’s Tribal College Librarians Professional Development Institute. Thanked the many tribal college librarians and indigenous librarians she works with and who inspire her.

Leah Plocharczyk, interim library director of John D. MacArthur Campus Library at Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter, said her early love of reading and storytelling led to her career in libraries, but she didn’t know it would lead to hosting a birthday party for a service dog named Clay. She said the lessons she’s learned from starting the first book club for students with intellectual disabilities in an academic library include slowing down, practicing patience, and finding joy in the unexpected. “Our profession encourages us to take risks and stand up for the marginalized and even the forgotten,” she said.

Public Library Association President Ramiro S. Salazar introduced the three public library winners.

Salazar read from the nomination for Homa Naficy, executive director of The American Place at Hartford (Conn.) Public Library, which said, “She is the epitome of a visionary and dedicated librarian.”

The American Place provides services to help immigrants and refugees transition to their new home. Naficy noted challenges in the last decade to helping immigrants and refugees, as well as an increasing sense of isolation throughout society generally. She said public libraries are in a unique position to bring diverse groups together in a neutral setting to share their stories, become more comfortable with each other, and reduce stereotyping.

Maria Papanastassiou, Kids’ World assistant manager at Arlington Heights (Ill.) Memorial Library, worked with the local nonprofit CITY (Children in Therapy and You) of Support to develop playgroups, programs, and collections for children with disabilities and their families. Papanastassiou said her library recently received a $10,000 grant from CITY of Support to develop its collection of materials. “Thanks also for allowing me to dress up as a unicorn and lead epic dance parties,” she said.

Janet Tom, reference librarian at San Francisco Public Library, was honored for creating a series of programs about death and dying featuring doctors, religious figures, artists, and others to dispel myths and taboos around talking about the end of life. Tom said questions about what happens to her body after death (can it be composted?) led to the eight-program series about cultural and religious differences, and facilitating conversations in a safe, welcoming, comfortable space.

The event concluded with a reception.

Carnegie Corporation of New York sponsors the I Love My Librarian Award; New York Public Library and The New York Times are cosponsors. ALA administers the award through its Communications and Marketing Office, which promotes the value of libraries and librarians. Winners received a $5,000 cash prize, a plaque, and a travel stipend to attend Midwinter.

For more information about this year’s winners, see “Meet the I Love My Librarian Award Winners.”


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