Thomas C. Phelps receives 2010 Lippincott Award

Contact: Cheryl Malden

Program Officer



For Immediate Release

March 16, 2010

CHICAGO—Thomas C. Phelps, Director of the Division of Public Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, is this year’s recipient of the American Library Association (ALA) Joseph W. Lippincott Award. The award, founded in 1938, is given annually to an individual for distinguished service to the profession of librarianship and is made possible by the award founder’s grandson, Joseph W. Lippincott, III.

“The jury for the 2010 Joseph W. Lippincott Award is pleased to honor Thomas Phelps for his many achievements during a varied and dynamic career,” said Dr. William Miller, Chair of the Committee and Dean of Libraries at Florida Atlantic University. “He far exceeds the criteria and richly deserves this honor.”

As Assistant Director and then Director of Public Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Phelps essentially invented the idea of awarding grants to libraries all across the country, in collaboration with ALA, to engage in humanities programming for the general public, beginning with the highly popular “Let’s Talk About It” reading and discussion program in all 50 states started in 1984. A member of ALA for over 40 years, after earning his MLS degree at the University of Oregon, Phelps had a long career at the Salt Lake City Public Library from 1968-80, rising to the position of Director of the Central Library before joining NEH in 1980 as Assistant Director of the Division of Public Programs. He was appointed Director of the Division in 2006.

A scholar and teacher, Phelps has published poetry, short stories, and children’s plays, and served as an adjunct faculty member at the library schools of Catholic University and the University of Maryland, mentoring many emerging leaders and works quietly behind the scenes inventing new forms of public programming for libraries, including travelling exhibits around which libraries can develop community-wide educational experiences.

Colleagues who nominated Phelps commented on his “vision to imagine possibilities others don’t see, his generosity in mentoring younger members of the profession, his gift for nurturing a project over many years and recognizing the moment it needs to grow or be taken into a new direction, and his relentless prodding to make sure this happens.” Another commented that “by honoring him you will be honoring all those who never sought publicity and recognition, because they know that doing good is its own virtue, and doing good for the nation even more so.”

Phelps has served on numerous committees of ALA, including service as Chair of the Planning Committee from 1982-84, and multiple committees of the Public Library Association. He has been the recipient of many other awards which have recognized his contributions to the Humanities. His active work on behalf of the profession continues; his current effort, “Picturing America,” is bringing art images to 60,000 public and school libraries around the country. Taken together, all of Thomas Phelps’ achievements exhibit the kind of “distinguished service to the profession” that Joseph Lippincott intended when he established this award.

Members of the 2010 Joseph W. Lippincott Award Jury are: William Miller, Florida Atlantic University (Chair); Irene Zimmerman, University of Wisconsin—Madison; Sue Stroyan, Illinois Wesleyan University; and Rodney Hersberger, California State University, Bakersfield.

The Lippincott Award will be presented at the ALA Award Ceremony and Reception, prior to the Inaugural Banquet, on June 29 during the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

The deadline for submission of applications for the 2011 Joseph W. Lippincott Award is Dec. 1, 2010. Guidelines and application forms are available on the ALA Web site,, in the Awards & Grants section under Professional Recognition.