CHICAGO — The Kansas City (Missouri) Public Library has been selected to receive the 2017 American Library Association Paul Howard Award for Courage. This prestigious award is given biannually to a library, library board, library group, or an individual who has exhibited unusual courage for the benefit of library programs or services.
“It is a privilege that the Award Jury recognizes the Kansas City Public Library for encouraging open public discourse on controversial topics and when that opportunity was challenged and in jeopardy, they intervened to support their community members and the right to have these conversations,” said Teri R. Switzer, chair of the Paul Howard Award for Courage Committee and Dean and Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. KCPL has a long-standing record of bringing a wide variety of speakers to the Kansas City community, many of which cover controversial and thought-provoking messages. They are known to champion civic and civil discourse and encourage the audience to participate during Q&A sessions. Executive Director of the Kansas City Public Library is Mr. R. Crosby Kemper III and Director of Programming is Mr. Steven Woolfolk.
It was Woolfolk who attempted to intervene in an incident involving a patron and a private security detail – which included off-duty Kansas City police officers – during a public event at KCPL’s Plaza Branch on May 9, 2016. At the start of a Q&A session following a presentation by longtime Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, a local activist asked a question perceived as provocative. Ross responded and, when the questioner, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, attempted to follow up, he was grabbed by one of the private security guards and then by others in the security detail.
Woolfolk tried to intercede, noting that public discourse is accepted and encouraged at a public event held in a public library. Rothe-Kushel was subsequently arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest. Woolfolk was charged with interfering with his arrest. Their cases are pending.
“In defense of the freedom of speech, the Library stands fully in support of Steve,” Kemper said.
Members of the Paul Howard Award for Courage Jury are: Heidi Blackburn, Ph.D. STEM and Business Librarian, University of Nebraska, Omaha; Linda Morgan Davis, Assistant Director, Collections and Community Engagement, The Public Library, Albuquerque; Rebecca Nous, Catalog Management Librarian, University of New York Albany; Edward Garcia, Director of Libraries, Cranston Public Library; and Teri R. Switzer, Ph.D. University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
The Paul Howard Award for Courage will be presented to the Kansas City Public Library at the ALA Award Ceremony and Reception on Sunday, June 25 during the Annual Conference in Chicago.