Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Night To Remember: The 2011 "I Love My Librarian" Celebration

Nerd Alert
I'm not really sure how to start this post, so... I suppose I'll just start at the beginning.

November 16th was a busy day in my library.  I had back to back classes scheduled, a calendar snafu (my own doing, of course), that needed fixing, and a district wide staff development to prepare for.  So, when the phone rang just as a group of 6th graders were piling in, I was sorely tempted to just let it ring.  Then, when I did answer it, and heard someone on the other end tell me that they were calling from the American Library Association and wondered if they could put me on speaker phone, I have to be honest, my first thought was "Uh oh.  What did I do now?"

What happened after that is kind of a blur.

I can't remember the exact order of how things went, but I do know that in the five minutes that followed I a) cried b) spilled my coffee and c) was told by a student that I "looked like I'd just won the lottery" which is sort of true, because in fact, I'd been chosen as one of this year's winners of the American Library Association's "I Love My Librarian" Award - a fact that I still find entirely surreal even as I type it out.  If you're not familiar with this program, it's an annual award which is sponsored by The Carnegie Corporation and The New York Times.  And, in my opinion, it's really special because it affords library patrons with the opportunity to recognize the contributions of their librarians.  This year, 1700 librarians were nominated.  Ten were chosen for the award.

In the weeks that followed, there were travel arrangements to make, photos to submit and speeches to prepare, all while keeping the whole thing top secret (which, let me just tell you, was the hardest part of all!).  In that time, I was (virtually) introduced to the nine other librarians who were also chosen for this award - an insanely talented group that had me HUMBLED at hello.  Then, finally, last Thursday, I got to meet them in person during the award ceremony in New York.

Voguing with Saundra Ross-Forest
Because nominations are taken from library patrons all around the country, our gang of ten is a pretty diverse group. And yet, funnily enough, there was one thing we all had in common. As we sat in the "green room" waiting for instructions, we nervously made small talk (turns out two of us earned our library degrees from Appalachian State  - Go Mountaineers!) until someone admitted that they couldn't bring themselves to read the nominations that had been written about their fellow recipients - a confession that was met with a chorus of "I know!" and "Me too!" Now, I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but just a few sentences into the only nomination I attempted to read and I felt completely out of my league - which, at the risk of sounding cocky, isn't a feeling I have all that often. (Note: I feel starstruck and fan-girl impressed by other educators all the time, but inept and completely unqualified? Not so much).  The fact that they all felt the same way was somehow reassuring.

Since then, I've taken the time to read about my fellow honorees and I was right to be impressed.  These women are fierce!  And what's more, they are vibrant, funny and incredibly generous.  As each one of them took the stage to accept the award, I grew more and more attached to them and their stories.  From Venetia's impassioned advocacy for patrons with disabilities to Barbara's proclamation that winning the award made her feel like being crowned "Miss Indiana," I gotta tell you, I teared up during each and every one of their remarks.

Geek Chic w/Michelle Luhtala
The rest of the night was equally as magical.  I got to meet Caroline Kennedy, Vartan Gregorian (who called me fiesty!) and some true library royalty like Sara Kelly Johns and Nancy Everhart.  THEN, as if that wasn't enough, I got to hang out with Michelle Luhtala, (whose likeness is on a lunchbox for crying out loud), and be interviewed by Rocco Staino for SLJ.  Seriously, it's all down hill from here.

When it was all over, my husband and I wandered the streets of the Big Apple, checking out the holiday lights and drinking hot cocoa.  At the risk of sounding goofy, it was like something out a dream.  The whole night, I kept expecting someone to shake me awake and ask me to fix their overhead projector. But that never happened.  Finally, somewhere around midnight, we realized we'd never eaten dinner, (we'd spent the whole day in the air and I'd been too nervous to eat during the reception), so we stopped at a street vendor and ate a giant pretzel in Columbus Circle.  We were frozen, but very, very happy.

Now, I know this is the part when I'm supposed to say how humbled I am to have been honored in this way, and I am, truly.  However, if anything, I emerge from this experience, (as we are wont to say in the South), fired up.  Throughout the night, people kept asking me how it felt to win the award.  And no matter how many times I tried to think of something witty or charming to say, the thing I kept coming back to was the idea that being honored for quality service is really just a confirmation of something I already know to be true: that what we do is worth fighting for.

As I said during my 90 seconds on the stage, it's been a tough year for libraries. What's more, I know sometimes we feel powerless to do anything to change the things that have made the last (and next) few years so challenging - but that's wrong and dangerous thinking.  The one thing we all have control over, is also the thing that's the most powerful:  the quality of our work.   We can't control our budgets or the whims of local (or federal) politicians, but we can control the impact we have on our patrons, the environments we create for them and the opportunities we provide them for learning.  Every last one of the ladies I met on Thursday could use a bigger budget (or one at all!), more staff and a magic wand - and yet none of them let the lack of those things diminish the quality of the work they do.  So, yes... I'm humbled.  But I'm also empowered by the knowledge that no matter what hand we are dealt, how we play it is completely up to us.

Update:  Since this post, ALA has added some information to their page about the award that I wanted to share.  First off, if you're interested in reading Caroline Kennedy's remarks about libraries (which I found quite moving) they are posted in their entirety here.  And secondly, if you're interested in conveying your congratulations or warm wishes to any of the recipients, you can do so here.  ALA has set up a separate page for you to share your thoughts with the honorees, which I think is kind of a neat thing.  Enjoy!


  1. This is perfect, Jennifer. It completely encapsulates how I feel too! Thanks for writing about this very special night. I know I am not alone when I describe it as one of my very favorites of all time. Absolutely loved meeting you! Look forward to seeing you again soon, or at least Tweeting with you soon!

  2. Michelle, meeting you F2F was a highlight of an incredible night! Thanks for all you do for our profession and your students. See you in the twitterverse! :)

  3. Jennifer, Congratulations to you and the other librarians who received this award. Your hard work, perseverance, love of librarianship, and commitment to your students, are most inspiring. It was great seeing you are the conference, and hearing about the great things that you are doing.

  4. I laughed out loud at your remark about the overhead projector! Our days are filled with such a huge variety of activities, from the mundane to the inspirational. And you are spot on - how we play out our cards is completely up to us. Thank you so much for your wonderful post and congratulations for well-deserved recognition.

  5. Jennifer,

    Well-deserved congratulations are in order! Your creativity, passion, and dedication have inspired me and I feel honored to say that I am in the same profession as you, Michelle Luhtala (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the SLJ Summitt this year), and Betsy Long (another South Carolinian!).

    You go, girl!

  6. Congratulation! What a well-deserved honor!

  7. Thanks so much, ladies. I'm so lucky to be able to count each of you as friends and colleagues. *mwah!*

  8. I am so happy for you. I love your message that we must focus on the quality of our work because it is the only thing we can control.

  9. I love that your nominator says, you have "completely changed my view of school librarians and their role as an instructional partners and school leaders." We need to bottle that essence and sprinkle liberally in our schools....and, we need to clone you! Congrats!

  10. Awwww. Thanks so much Tamara and Donna - you both inspire me all the time!


  11. Wow, what a wonderful story. Congratulations Jennifer! Sue