It's nice to start 2024 off with some good news: since our last newsletter, the American Library Association has announced the 10 recipients of the coveted I Love My Librarian Award, and it is another exceptional class of honorees. ALA officials said that they received nearly 1,400 nominations from library users for this year’s award and more than 23,000 since the award was established in 2008.
“While much of the national conversation surrounding libraries has fixated on book censorship, and as library workers across the U.S. continue to face historic levels of intimidation and harassment, librarians’ efforts to empower their patrons and provide vital services for their communities shines a spotlight on the enduring value of libraries in our society,” said American Library Association President Emily Drabinski, in a statement. “The inspiring stories of this year’s I Love My Librarian Award honorees demonstrate the positive impact librarians have on the lives of those they serve each day.”
The winners will be honored at an award ceremony during the LibLearnX welcome reception, beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 19, in Baltimore, Md. The reception will also be streamed live on YouTube.
Speaking of the ALA's LiblearnX, a number of speakers have been added since our preview issue came out, including Kate DiCamillo, and George M. Johnson. It's not too late to register and join your fellow librarians in Charm City, January 19–22.
The New York Times this week wrote about one of the I Love My Librarian Award winners, Fred Gitner, who has worked in programs to assist migrants at the Queens Public Library for 28 years. “I view Fred as our international ambassador,” Dennis Walcott, the president and chief executive of the Queens Library, told the Times. “His sensitivity to the asylum seekers who are coming to libraries and what Fred was able to do with his staff to go out and interface with them is off the charts.”
Also from the New York Times this week, a chilling look at how a planned (but never held) drag event at one small rural library in Lake Luzerne, N.Y., has left the library shuttered and the community divided. "After 53 years of operation, the library—named for the adjacent Rockwell Falls—has not lent a book since Sept. 26.," the report notes. "Neighbors who grew up together have been left wondering how their quiet rural town of 1,400, about an hour’s drive north of Albany, became a battleground for a nationally polarizing debate over issues of inclusion, free speech, and the role of tax-funded institutions."
Across the country, Alaska Public Media reports on how backlash led to the cancellation of a drag queen story hour event planned for the Soldotna Public Library. “The reason that we’re hosting this event is to create a joyous, loving and wholesome situation and safe place for queer kids, which is something that I didn’t have growing up and that a lot of people in this community don’t have,” Joe Spady, an organizer of Soldotna Pride and one of the scheduled storytellers for the event, told reporters, adding that “conversations on social media got more violent and led organizers to postpone.”
In Oregon, local affiliate, KGW8 reports that the State Library of Oregon is warning that “rising library budget cuts across the state” could have major negative impacts in local communities. Buzzy Nielsen, the program manager for library support at the State Library of Oregon, said that the “lack of financial support is weighing heavily on library staff who are already facing safety concerns and a record number of attempts to ban books.”
In Indianapolis, the Indy Star reports that interim Indianapolis Public Library CEO Nichelle Hayes will step down. “Hayes had sought to become the library system's permanent leader. She had broad support from members of the community, city council members, and the union representing library staff, but faced opposition from several members of the board in a months-long national search and conflict over who would lead the library system,” the paper reports. “Hayes' exit from the organization closes the chapter on a years-long saga— marked by in-fighting, dysfunction, mistrust, division, the appointments of several acting CEOs, and public protests—to install new leadership and stability at the library following the 2021 resignation of long-time chief executive Jackie Nytes.”
Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen's weekly censorship roundup begins with the first in “a series of posts that will offer insights and calls to action,” drawn from three recent surveys conducted by Book Riot and the EveryLibrary Institute. “We know the results of these surveys are a study in tension,” Jensen writes. “Where parents agreed with big picture ideas—across all three surveys, 94% said they feel their child is safe at the library—it was some of the more granular topics where we saw conflicting responses. It is important to talk about those, including the fact that there are parents who believe library workers should be prosecuted for the materials they offer in the collection and that many believe there needs to be more barriers to material access in place for their children. But rather than focus on those as threats, perhaps they’re better framed as opportunities.”
And finally this week, NPR has a piece on Colorado librarian Brooky Parks, who won a $250,000 settlement after she was wrongly terminated for refusing to censor books. In the report, Parks’s lawyer, Iris Halpern, makes a key point about the damages award: “It sends a message out that there are consequences, financial consequences,” Halpern said. “And we can put guardrails up against things like censorship and discrimination.”