For immediate release | April 19, 2016

Sheila Umberger, director, Roanoke Public Libraries, receives 2016 Sullivan Award

CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to announce the 2016 Peggy Sullivan Award for Public Library Administrators Supporting Services to Children has been awarded to Sheila Umberger, director, Roanoke Public Libraries, which is headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia. The Sullivan Award is presented annually to an individual in a library administrator role who has shown exceptional understanding and support of public library service to children. The award will be presented at the ALA President’s Program, Sunday, June 26, 2016 at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.

A Virginia native, Umberger earned her MLS from the University of South Carolina. After learning the ropes of technical and public services at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in South Carolina and Wayne State College Library in Nebraska, Umberger joined Roanoke Public Libraries in 1982, eventually becoming the library director in 2004.

As Roanoke’s library director, Umberger has led a team of library staff in developing innovative programs including Baby Board Book, free book distribution and Feed and Read. Children’s programs were expanded beyond traditional storytimes to include STEM, art and music activities. The number of Youth Services programs offered increased from 118 a year to 3,392 during her tenure, and she oversaw the expansion and enhancement of library spaces for children to include a play area, a programming mezzanine and a two-story slide.

Star City Reads may be Umberger’s crowning achievement. Launched in 2012, Star City Reads is Roanoke’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading coalition, focusing the entire community on the goal of having children reading proficiently by the end of third grade. In collaboration with a dozen partners, ranging from Virginia Tech to the Roanoke Police Department, Star City Reads reached into every segment of the Roanoke community, even launching Books on Buses, a mobile lending library available on three Valley Metro bus lines.

Through a well-defined strategy, Umberger targeted the most at-risk demographic, weak readers approaching third grade, and caught them at that most pivotal age. This smart investment of resources gave the children the tools they needed to become their own champions. She became part of a new vision for her city, a six time recipient of the National Civic League of All-America Cities award.

“This was a very strong year for Sullivan nominations,” said Dodie Ownes, 2016 jury chair. “Umberger’s pragmatic yet innovative approach to expanding Roanoke Public Library children’s services into the community simply put her over the top.” Ann Burlingame, jury member and 2015 Sullivan award winner, noted that “Umberger has consistently worked to provide all children with an enriching, educational and entertaining experience at their public library.”

Members of the 2016 Sullivan Award Committee are: Chair Dodie Ownes, adult services librarian, Douglas County Libraries, Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Ann Burlingame, deputy director, Wake County Public Libraries, North Carolina; Scott Bonner, director, Ferguson Public Library, Missouri; Heather Ketron, former branch manager, Loudon County Public Libraries, Virginia; Christine Dengel, School and Library Liaison, Peachtree Publishers

The deadline for submission of applications for the 2017 Sullivan Award for Public Library Administrators Supporting Services to Children is Dec. 1, 2016. Guidelines and applications are available on the ALA website.


Cheryl Malden

Program Officer