Melanie Townsend Diggs receives the 2016 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity

For Immediate Release
Tue, 04/12/2016


Cheryl Malden

Program Officer



CHICAGO – Melanie Townsend Diggs, Pennsylvania Avenue Branch manager of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, will co-present Townsend Diggs with the prize during the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Florida. Townsend Diggs will receive a cash prize and an object from Handler’s private collection.

On April 19, 2015, a week after Baltimore City Police took 25-year old Freddie Gray into custody he was dead. In the days to come, No one would have ever imagined that Gray’s death while in police custody would have sparked protests, demonstrations and civil unrest at the intersection where Gray was arrested in the West Baltimore neighborhood; the very intersection where sits the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch of the city of Baltimore’s  Enoch Pratt Free Library.

On Monday April 27, 2015 Townsend Diggs, an East Baltimore native, was managing  the Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt’s Free Library, West Baltimore neighborhood’s Pennsylvania Ave Branch, when an angry and frustrated mob approached the block. According to news accounts, after locking the doors of the library, and counseling patrons and staff, who numbered at least 30 persons, to remain calm, she watched from a window as the pharmacy across the street was being ransacked and parked cars were set ablaze. Townsend Diggs took several steps to safeguard the staff and patrons, including convincing the security staff to change into civilian clothes lest they be confused with the police potentially inciting the mob that was marauding through the neighborhood. Having safely led the patrons and staff out of a side door later that day before closing, Townsend Diggs and Enoch Pratt CEO Carla Hayden contemplated their next move. Should they open the next day or should they close the branch until things calmed down? 

Recognizing the vital role that the library plays in the community as a resource and with the Baltimore city schools closed, the police on high alert, and the neighborhood paralyzed, she and Enoch Pratt Free library CEO Carla Hayden boldly declared that the library would be open the next day. Ms. Townsend Diggs describes in her own words what happened the next day, Tuesday April 28, “in some ways it was a typical day, with people coming and going. But you also would have seen customers and community leaders coming in and thanking us for being open. A woman bringing us flowers, pastries. The media coming in to charge up their batteries, use the restrooms. You would have seen a young man coming in to fill out a job application online, and then coming back the next day to say that he had an interview scheduled for May 5. All of these things happened. If we had not opened our doors, we would have missed all those things.”

Lemony Snicket jury chair Julius C. Jefferson Jr. remarked that “Ms. Townsend Diggs is a true activist librarian, serving the needs of the community first.”  When asked how these events framed her view of her work, Townsend Diggs stated,” I’ve been a librarian for more than 20 years, and as difficult and scary as this week has been, I love the fact that it has shown people that we’re here. Sometimes people don’t realize all we do as librarians. We’re the light in the community, the pathway to resources, we provide access to a world of possibilities. Situations like this shed light on a profession that often gets overlooked”

The Lemony Snicket jury recognizes that Ms. Melanie Townsend Diggs has been the ultimate example of humility, integrity, and dignity in the face of adversity.

Handler said, "During troubled times, we need open minds.  Open minds need open books.  Open books require an open library, and the work of Melanie Townsend Diggs provided such a necessary and hopeful beacon."

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.  The prize is $10,000, a certificate and an odd, symbolic object.  Townsend Diggs will be joining last year’s prize winner, Scott Bonner, who was honored for his work in Ferguson, Missouri and 2014 winner Laurence Copel, who was honored for her work in the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library of New Orleans.

The 2016 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity five-member jury included: Jury Chair Julius C. Jefferson Jr., Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Becca Worthington Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, North Carolina, Sandy Wee, Library Services Manager, Access Services, San Mateo County Library, San Mateo, CA, Charles Kratz, Dean of the Library and Information Fluency, University of Scranton, and Patricia Glass Schuman, Past President of the American Library Association, Long Island NY.

The deadline for submission of applications for the 2017 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity is Dec. 1, 2016.  Guidelines and applications are available on the ALA website.