Volume 28, Number 3, Fall 2006

Meet Century Scholar Avery Deane Olmstead

by Simon Healey, Free Library of Philadelphia

Avery Deane Olmstead IV is the 2006 recipient of the Century Scholarship presented by ASCLA. Olmstead is a student at the College of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.

The independently-funded Century Scholarship is a diversity initiative aimed at promoting ALA's mission of improving service at the local level through the development of a representative workforce that reflects the communities served by all libraries in the new millennium. The Century Scholarship is a $2,500 monetary award given annually to a student or students pursuing a degree in library and information science.

"The committee was unanimous in its opinion that Avery 'is that perfect candidate' -- a student with a disability for whom the Century Scholarship was conceived,” staid Simon J. M. Healey, Century Scholarship jury committee chair. "Avery is an inspiring, intelligent, talented person who is interested in raising disability awareness and is equally enthusiastic about the library world and in bringing the two aspects together."

Olmstead earned a Bachelor of Science in rehabilitation services from the University of Maine at Farmington and a MHRT/Community Certificate from the University of Southern Maine. He served as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with the Born to Read program at the Maine Humanities Council and with Project GOALS at the Bangor Public Library and Old Town Public Library. He has performed as an actor with the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, based in Crosby, Maine.

Olmstead was not able to attend the ALA Conference in New Orleans, but he sent his remarks:

For as long as I can remember, I always had a book in my hand. I loved the excitement of wondering what kind of journey the author was going to take me on. As soon as I finished one book, I couldn’t wait to start another. I still love books and if you saw how crammed my bookcase is in my apartment, you would know I wasn’t kidding!

Through my studies at the University of South Carolina, I am learning that the field of library and information science is as much about empowerment as it is about literature. We have the power to assist people in finding information that could change their lives. It could be helping a student find information for a term paper, coordinating a poetry reading where people connect with the prose, or helping a parent find books on a disability, to learn more about his/her child’s diagnosis.

I was born with Cerebral Palsy in the summer of 1971. Growing up, I projected an air of someone who was happy most of the time and comfortable with himself. Inside, I was a depressed and angry person who always felt the need to apologize for existing. For example, I felt guilty if someone had to build a ramp for me to get into a building. I felt like I would be putting the builders out or causing them stress. In the last few years, I’ve come to realize that I have just as much right to exist and thrive in this world as anyone else. I don’t need to apologize for being who I am.

I would love to use my MLIS degree to be an agent of change in the disability arena. Whether it be having a discussion with interested patrons on disability issues, consulting with a library on accessibility improvements, or speaking to a class of first-year nursing students, I believe educating and communicating with each other is the best way to affect change. It is important for me to get my voice, our voices, out there. That is how we empower ourselves, and each other.

I would like to thank the selection committee of ASCLA for the honor of being chosen. I would also like to thank my family and friends for encouraging me to apply for graduate school and for supporting that decision, even when I was stressing out over assignments. I won’t let you down!