Sponsored by the Times and Carnegie Corporation of New York and administered by the American Library Association, the award recognizes quality service and dedication by library professionals across the country, nominated by their patrons and selected by a jury of their peers. The $5,000 prize and all-expenses-paid trip to New York made a nifty holiday gift, and the speech-filled award ceremony brought tears to the eyes of many as the winners talked about the life-changing benefits of good library service. Winner Dana Thomas of Fort Myers, Florida, quipped that she could hardly wait to share the $5,000 prize with her students at Cypress Lake Middle School. “This can go so far!” she said, observing that there was 25 cents left in her materials budget.
Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian set the tone with the proclamation that “access to knowledge is a right, not a privilege.” He called librarians “the great defenders of freedom and democracy” and libraries “the people’s university.”
Several winners remarked that in tough economic times, the demand for library services has skyrocketed. Sol A. Gómez a branch manager at the Pima County Public Library in Tucson, Arizona, said that people who have lost their jobs, people who are homeless, are looking to his library for help. “We see it all at the library,” he said, “and I’m very proud to be a librarian.”
Emphasizing the heightened importance of libraries in troubled economic times, Yasmin Namini, senior vice president for marketing and circulation at the New York Times, noted that “libraries are open to all but this should never be taken for granted.” She praised the winners for their work and their central place in the community as teachers and friends.
Award winner Laura Grunwerg, director of youth and young adult services at the River Edge Public Library in New Jersey, joked that librarians are “bartenders minus the booze,” as they listen to the questions and information needs of their patrons and try to help them solve problems that sometimes seem unsolvable.
Winner Carolyn Wheeler, media specialist and youth services librarian from Michigan, told the audience of well-wishers that she has a poster in her library that reads: “Did you ask a good question today?” That, Wheeler noted, sums up the best way to learn to love your librarian.