2018 I Love My Librarian Award winners

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Each year, users of all types of libraries – public, school, academic and special – get to express their appreciation for their favorite librarians.

Up to ten librarians are selected annually for this prestigious honor: each one receives a $5,000 cash award, a plaque and a travel stipend to attend the awards ceremony and reception in New York City, hosted by the award's co-sponsors Carnegie Corporation of New York, The New York Public Library, and The New York Times. This year, four academic librarians, three public librarians and three school librarians were chosen from more than 1,000 total nominations.

The following winners enjoyed a well deserved chance to share the spotlight:

Tamara Cox, a school librarian at Wren High School Library in Piedmont, South Carolina, works tirelessly to ensure that all Wren High School students have a welcoming, safe place that supports literacy and fosters academic achievement. Students know they can come to the library for help, regardless of need. Students frequently visit the school library for research sources, document editing, technology troubleshooting, printing and even supplies like paper, pencils and glue sticks. Her inclusive attitude has made the library the heart of the school, providing all students in need a refuge from poverty, hunger and stress. Wren High School parents are often pleasantly surprised to hear from Cox, who regularly calls parents to share stories of students’ kindness or hard work.

Terri Gallagher, reference librarian with Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) library in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Recognized for her commitment to students and staff, Gallagher plays an active role in  library and classroom activities. She has conducted 238 classes, ranging from orientations for CCBC High School Academies to evidence-based research training for nursing majors.  Gallagher also co-sponsors and supports various student clubs and campus committees, such as the Writer’s Club and Diversity Committee, and she regularly provides training opportunities for faculty through convocation presentations and other professional development events.

Paula Kelly, director of the Whitehall Public Library in Pittsburgh. She is a multi-award winning librarian who is committed to inclusion, partnerships and collaboration. She is a recognized leader throughout her county’s consortium of libraries and readily shares her education, programming and advocacy strategies with peers locally and beyond. She is known for her support of library programs that make the library immigrant-friendly and accessible to diverse populations, including Pittsburgh’s substantial population of Bhutanese refugees. As a volunteer literacy tutor, Kelly helped enhance literacy rates within local refugee communities and has fostered understanding by working to offer multicultural potluck dinners. Her nominators also noted Kelly’s contibutions to creating resources that better the lives of special needs children.

Ginny Blackson, collection development and management librarian at the James E. Brooks Library in Ellensburg, Washington, is commended for spearheading numerous projects that have moved library services into new and exciting areas with a concerted focus on inclusion and diversity, including the creation of the Family Friendly Space for library users with young children. She was instrumental in obtaining a Pride Foundation grant resulting in the acquisition of library materials covering LGBTQ issues.

In addition, she successfully acquired funding from the Friends of the Library to purchase materials representing Hispanic history and cultural issues. Among her other activities, Blackson leads the annual Women’s History Month initiative for the campus radio station, recruiting students, staff and faculty to record information about notable women in U.S. history.

Jennifer Berg Gaither, librarian at the Baltimore City College (BCC). Gaither is commended for going above and beyond what is typically expected of an instructor. For example, she has driven children with transportation challenges to school, even if it meant driving across the city in the early morning hours. She spends late nights and early mornings at school with her students and sometimes meets her students at coffee shops and book stores to provide extra help in the evenings and during school breaks.

At BCC, Gaither coordinates the extended essay portion of the International Baccalaureate Diploma program; Gaither is committed to empowering all students, including those from underrepresented background, to complete these rigorous process of research, writing, and revision. She launched several critical initiatives, including the BCC Extended Essay library, a collection of student essays, bound and published, both as models and inspirations for junior students and to honor the work and achievements of graduates. She also designed a video series featuring student advice, student accomplishments and student-created tutorials in English and Spanish. Since 2014, the number of BCC students passing the extended essay requirement has risen from 28 to 109, an increase that community members attribute to Gaither’s leadership.

Stephanie Hartwell-Mandella, librarian at Katonah Village Library in Bedford, New York. Since 2011 Hartwell-Mandella has served as the head of Children’s Services at the Katonah Village Library. She is a catalyst who is committed to empowering the community to celebrate its differences by bringing patrons together in a safe, welcoming space to address such divisive issues as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, physical abilities, religious or political beliefs. Hartwell-Mandella is commended for her commitment to fostering empathy and understanding and ensuring that all stories are recognized as important and meaningful.

Linda Robinson, library media specialist at Mansfield Middle School in Mansfield, Connecticut. “Robinson is a master teacher, commensurate collaborator, team player and cheerleader for all students,” her nominators said. She is a known creator, innovator and imaginer who develops such student-friendly library programs as Book Speed Dating, Reader Workshops, Book Tastings and an annual Winter Wonderland Festival.

Robinson’s innovation and dedication has significantly fostered a love of reading among students. In 2010, the library circulated 17,033 books. Even though the school experienced a significant decline in enrollment, her invovatiive literacy programs resulted in increased circulation of 27,064 in 2018.

Reading programs don’t just take place in the school library. Reading becomes a passport to another land through Robinson’s One School, One Read program, which includes a schoolwide lunch that functions as a multisensory circus bringing the text to life. She works with cafeteria staff to plan a meal that reflects the book’s setting. Staff members dress up and assume a book character, transforming, with the aid of decorations, music and props, the cafeteria into a living book.

Joy Bridwell, librarian at Stone Child College in Box Elder, Montana, is commended for her work at Stone Child College, which is located on a tribal reservation and serves as an academic and public library for the community of Rocky Boy. At the college, she has sat on several committees and held events that have brought thousands of patrons into the library. Some of these events have been so popular that they have become annual events. One event, the “Rocky Boy’s Got Talent” contest, brought in 150 people with 34 participants.

She works closely with students in their preparation for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Knowledge Bowl and the consortium’s student conference. In addition, she creates Cree Language materials for the college and the community, as well as partnering with elders in the community to add materials to the tribal archive.

She recently completed a one-year term as president of the Tribal College & University Library Association, where she worked with other tribal colleges to obtain funding for digital media. Her efforts resulted in a $1,000 grant from the American Indian College Fund, which provided funds used to purchase education media for the library.

Nancy Daniel, library director at the Western Piedmont Community College, in Morganton, North Carolina, is honored for her work at the college’s rural Appalachian campus. Her library includes the Sen. Sam J. Ervin, Jr. library and museum, an art gallery and the campus’ Academic Success Center.

She works on the frontlines with students to develop their research skills, showing them how to evaluate sources online. Students say Daniel shows boundless support, making sure they have a safe environment that facilitates learning. She works with staff to keep a cart stocked with non-perishable food and toiletries in the library for the college’s lower-income community members.

Lindsey Tomsu is being recognized for her work at Algonquin (Ill.) Area Public Library District and La Vista (Neb.) Public Library. She was nominated by students from both libraries’ teen advisory boards who commended Tomsu’s efforts to make teens’ voices heard. She has provided a welcoming atmosphere for her patrons, serving as a friend, mentor, and older sister. Tomsu has helped bring to life programs ranging from the unusual (Bacon Club and Pool Noodle Kendo Club) to the technological (Media Club and the teen makerspace). Among the community programs she developed was the BUILD Collective, a multipurpose program that allows teens and tweens to play with educational toys that foster their imagination and creativity.