PLA awards recognize 12 individuals and public libraries representing excellence

For Immediate Release
Fri, 02/24/2017


Kara O'Keefe

Manager, Marketing and Membership

Public Library Association (PLA)

CHICAGO — The Public Library Association (PLA) has announced the winners of 12 awards honoring the best in public library service, innovation and outreach in 2017.

The Allie Beth Martin Award, sponsored by Baker & Taylor, recognizes a public librarian for demonstrating a range and depth of knowledge about books and other library materials and the distinguished ability to share that knowledge. This year’s award of $3,000 will be presented to Maureen Millea Smith, librarian, Hennepin County (Minnesota) Public Library, who was recognized for her readers’ advisory skills. She has also made many positive impacts in her community, particularly with her involvement in the “Edina Reads” program and “Great Decisions” lecture series.

The Baker & Taylor Entertainment Audio Music/Video Product Award includes $2,500 in audio music and video products for the circulating collection of the selected recipient. This year’s winner, East Berlin (Pennsylvania) Community Library, will use the award to support a project named TeleText, a combination of television and text. The goal is to create a subtitled video collection for children. This specific collection is designed to strengthen literacy and language skills in children with reading difficulties, with speech or hearing impairments, with developmental delays, and for children learning English as a second language.

The Charlie Robinson Award, sponsored by Baker & Taylor, honors a public library director who has been a risk taker, innovator, and change agent with a $1,000 award. Valerie Gross, president and CEO of the Howard County (Maryland) Library System was chosen for her vision, passion and implementation skills. Lynn Wheeler, executive director of the Carroll County (Maryland) Public Library, and former colleague of Charlie Robinson, said that “one of [Gross’s] biggest risks has been to link the library very strongly with education. By renaming her staff instructors and educators, she has pushed the envelope well beyond the comfort level of her colleagues in Maryland, yet over time, the language she has developed to connect the library to formal and self-directed education has appeared more and more frequently in the description of services in many Maryland libraries.”

The DEMCO New Leaders Travel Grant provides funds to new public librarians to enable their attendance at major professional development events. Each of this year’s grantees will receive a $1,500 grant to attend a PLA continuing education event. Grantees are: Jane Blue, branch librarian, Andrews (North Carolina) Public Library; April Hernandez, director, Lincoln (Kansas) Library; Daniel Ng, Adult Programming librarian, Fresno County (Calif.) Public Libraries.

The Gordon M. Conable Award honors a public library staff member, a library trustee or a public library that has demonstrated a commitment to intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights. This year’s award of $1,500 will be presented to Vanessa Strange, librarian, Spokane County (Washington) Library District, whose library displays and programming demonstrated a dedication to free and uncensored information for the community.

The EBSCO Excellence in Rural Library Service Award honors a public library that demonstrates excellence in service to a community of 10,000 people or fewer with an upper per capita income limit of not more than the 75th quartile of the national average. This year’s $1,000 award recognizes the David A. Howe (New York) Public Library, which serves as the “center and the pride of the village of Wellsville,” according to Development administrator and Special Collections librarian Keturah Cappadonia. The library achieves this “by providing a collection of resources, adopting and promoting technologies, developing programming, fostering an appreciation for learning and most importantly, supporting the social and economic fabric of the community by providing a space for people to come together.”

The John Iliff Award, sponsored by Innovative, honors the life and accomplishments of John Iliff, early adopter and champion of technology in public libraries. This award provides a $1,000 honorarium to a library professional or library that has used technology and innovation as a tool to improve services to public library users. This year’s award is presented to Charles Pace, executive director, Gwinnett County (Georgia) Public Library, whose commitment to customer needs led to the creation of Open+. This technology allows registered users to enter the Lawrenceville Branch prior to opening hours, increasing the community's access without putting a strain on the current staffing model.

The Romance Writers of America Library Grant is designed to provide a public library the opportunity to build or expand its romance fiction collection and/or host romance fiction programming. This year’s $4,500 grant is awarded to the Philipsburg (Montana) Public Library, who will use the funds to add more large-type novels to their romance collection. The library also plans to purchase eight e-readers and preload them with romance novels.

The Upstart Library Innovation Award honors a public library’s innovative or creative service program with a $2,000 honorarium. The 2017 winner is Brampton Library in Brampton, Ontario, Canada for its   Welcoming Newcomers for Settlement Success initiative. The library partners with the City of Brampton and Brampton Transit to offer bus tours to newcomers, which take participants around to the library branches and other citywide highlights. Along the route, library staff promote collections and programs to help guide participants’ settlement success in Canada.

PLA also offers two awards for feature articles contributed to its bimonthly journal, Public Libraries. This year’s first place winner ($500 prize) is Joel Nichols, the Free Library of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), for his feature article "Serving All Library Families in a Queer and Genderqueer Way,” from the January/February 2016 issue of Public Libraries. The honorable mention and $300 prize winner will be chosen via a contest on the Public Libraries Online Facebook page; details are to come.

PLA President Felton Thomas, Jr., along with the award sponsors and PLA members, will recognize the award winners as part of the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast on Saturday, June 24, 2017, at the 2017 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.

PLA award winners are chosen by the PLA Award juries and the Public Libraries Advisory Subcommittee. For more information on PLA Awards and to volunteer for jury or committee appointments, visit or contact the PLA office at (800) 545-2433, ext. 5PLA.

About the Public Library Association
PLA is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 9,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. For more information about PLA, visit