2000 Barbara Kingsolver Award Winner
Choctaw (OK) Library Guild
Following are the remarks of Martin Covert of New Orleans, FOLUSA Board member and chair of the judging of the Kingsolver Award entries, at the presentation of the award to the Choctaw Library Guild, January 15, 2001, in Washington, D.C.
1978. Choctaw, Oklahoma. A town of 5,000 without a library.
To borrow from Dickens: "Please sirs, can’t we get the state’s Bookmobile to visit?"
Among those forced to plea for that visit is a band of volunteers who is still begging for support and services nearly a quarter-century later.
The Choctaw Library Guild receives the $10,000 today from HarperCollins, author Barbara Kingsolver and FOLUSA to buy books for a library that almost didn’t exist.
Here is a group of volunteers who saw "Vote No" signs put up next to every one they planted asking for the passage of a bond issue that would raise property taxes and create the first library in Choctaw that did not share space with other city agencies.
During 2000, voters finally answered the 23-year-old rallying cry of volunteers for a Choctaw Library building. Twenty-three years of struggle, of begging for one room in a multi-use facility for a town library.
The reluctant granting by city fathers of a tiny space that immediately outgrew itself. "A bigger room, please?" Permission begrudgingly granted.
Tired of pleading, the Choctaw volunteers found a way to purchase seven lots in Downtown Choctaw to build their own branch. How did they get the money?
Garage sales, spaghetti dinners, auctions, the creation of calendars and greeting cards by local artists sold to anyone who dared to pass within 10 feet of these determined volunteers.
The Guild convinced church groups, clubs and school parents to become a part of the campaign and to pay Guild dues.
The goal? One million dollars for the creation of a library building. Grass-roots events, grant-writing, fund-raising. Enough was realized to plan a groundbreaking for early 2000.
And then, on May 3, 1999, a tornado destroyed the still-temporary, shared-space building where the Guild had created a beloved, crowded, over-used library.
It took an act of God and nature, but the citizens of Choctaw finally took notice. They passed the bond issue and the Guild deeded the land for the new library to the city. Groundbreaking is now scheduled for Spring 2002. Fund-raising continues by the same dedicated few. No glamorous galas or visits by distinguished authors.
More used book sales, arts and crafts shows and a determination that makes Choctaw, Oklahoma a town with a library.