Denise Neujahr wins the 2023 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity
For Immediate Release
American Library Association
CHICAGO – Denise Neujahr, Teen Youth Services Specialist for the Community Library Network in northern Idaho, has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, will present Neujahr with the award—a cash prize and an object from Handler’s private collection—during the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference & Exhibition on Sunday, June 25, 2023, in Chicago, IL.
There has been no shortage of high-profile challenges to serving LGBTQ+ teens in libraries across the United States. As a Young Adult Librarian for the Community Library Network, Denise has spent her career providing a supportive environment for young adults. In 2019, she implemented the Rainbow Squad program to provide a safe space for an increasing number of young adults who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and their allies, to interact with each other, engage in activities, and exist in a space free from fear of being “othered” by individuals who have proven to be unkind to people identifying at LGBTQ+. This program continued virtually throughout the pandemic.
A small but vocal group in north Idaho began politicizing the library network’s Rainbow Squad programs in the spring of 2021. Ire amplified by this politicization increased to the point when in June of 2022, Denise was targeted by the “Panhandle Patriots,” a militia-oriented motorcycle club based in northern Idaho. They received her personal information through a public records request and commenced a personal attack on Denise that included printed posters and a social media campaign that labeled her as a “groomer” and claimed that she was indoctrinating youth with an LGBTQ+ agenda.
Denise was undeterred. She persevered through protests, threats, and armed disruptions from individuals in the community who were looking to challenge the safe space she worked so hard to create. Working with law enforcement and library administration, Denise made sure these young adults were protected. One armed protester at a Rainbow Squad event was arrested for not complying with law enforcement instructions to stay away from program participants. At the Pride in the Park event, where the library partnered with other community groups, thirty-one members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front, who were dressed and outfitted in tactical gear, were arrested for intending to riot before they could disrupt the event.
The narrative of banning books and programs that support marginalized groups of young adults has continued… and so has Denise. Her dedication and determination to ensure all members of the community are represented and supported in the districts’ libraries is an inspiration for over one hundred of her library colleagues.
The Lemony Snicket award was created to acknowledge the work of librarians who have gone above and beyond the normal requirements of librarianship to stand up in the face of adversity with dignity and honor, and to recognize the significant sacrifices and contributions that librarians make to improve the quality of life and their communities.
“The jury is very proud to honor Ms. Neujahr for her bravery in the face of such persistent and ongoing hostility,” said Lemony Snicket jury chair Ann Symons. “In the midst of adversity, she has remained a firm advocate for her community of LGBTQ+ teenagers defending their right to gather at the library with their peers and become members of the library community.”
In response to receiving the award, Neujahr said, “Words cannot express how thankful I am to Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) for his extreme generosity and his incredible support for librarians. Thank you to ALA, the Lemony Snicket Prize jury, and Nathan Hansen for giving me this tremendous honor that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I am inspired every day by the Rainbow Squad teens who give me hope for the future. I would like to dedicate this award to everyone at the Community Library Network, as well as to all school and public librarians who are passionate about offering diverse programs and books for the members in their communities.”
The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity was established in 2014 by the American Library Association in partnership with Daniel Handler. The prize, which is co-administered by ALA’s Governance Office and the Office for Intellectual Freedom, annually recognizes, and honors a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact. Lemony Snicket said, “Denise Neujahr is the sort of hero I find most inspiring—calm, steady and fearless in the face of cruel, panicky cowards —LS.” The prize is $10,000, a certificate, and an odd, symbolic object.
Neujahr will be joining the list of prize winners. Other esteemed past winners include 2022 winner Martha Hickson for her unwavering defense of her students’ right to intellectual freedom and right to read; 2021 winner Janet Eldred in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania for her dignity and grace after a diagnosis of early-stage dementia; 2020 winner Heather Ogilve in Panama City, Florida, for her work in the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster of Hurricane Michael; 2019 co-winners Yvonne Cech and Diana Haneski, the respective Library Media Specialists at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, both of whom barricaded and protected students during shootings at their respective schools; 2017 winner Steven Woolfolk, who was honored for his defense of First Amendment rights in Kansas City, Missouri; 2016 winner Melanie Townsend Diggs, who was honored for her activism during civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland; 2015 winner Scott Bonner, who was honored for his work during the riots in Ferguson, Missouri; and 2014 winner Laurence Copel, who was honored for bookmobiling through the hurricane-hit streets in the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library of New Orleans.
The 2023 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity five-member jury included: Jury Chair Ann K. Symons, ALA Past President, Damon L. Austin, Director of Library and Media Services, DeMatha Catholic High School, Hyattsville, MD; Elizabeth (Beth) Libberton Library Media Specialist, Elgin, IL; Beth McGuire, Greensburg, PA; and Mary-Kate Sableski, Reading Program Coordinator, Department of Teacher Education, University of Dayton, Dayton OH.