Janet Eldred receives the 2021 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity
For Immediate Release
Cheryl M Malden
American Library Associagtion
CHICAGO – Janet Eldred, director of the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. The annual award, consisting of $10,000 and a citation of achievement, will be presented on Sunday, June 27, 2021 at the ALA virtual Annual Conference.
During her tenure as library director, Eldred has overseen major projects like completing a new, state-of-the-art $2.8 million library build-out on time, under budget, and mortgage-free; she also accomplished smaller daily tasks like so many in the library field, working tirelessly with her team, sweeping, shoveling, lugging books, and sitting cheerfully at library booths through rainy festivals. But the challenge and adversity she now faces with remarkable dignity and grace is a medical one.
In 2012, Eldred was diagnosed with early-stage dementia. Since then, she has not only experienced increasingly impaired cognitive function— but has also developed neurological complications, including occasional seizures and bouts of syncope (loss of consciousness). Through it all, she has remained supremely functional on the job, able to perform and excel within the library, exemplifying adaptiveness and resilience. The nomination and support letters that poured in from community members, board members, and library coworkers celebrate Eldred’s energy, zeal, kindness, tireless work ethic, relentless love for the community, and inspiring selfless directorship, despite her immense medical challenges.
In 2019, in a speech for which she received a standing ovation ( but does not recall giving), she observed: “You’ve often heard it said: No one is promised tomorrow. Life is fragile. I have learned that applies to the past as well. No one is promised yesterday, either. The one thing you can grasp is the moment. This is the moment you can choose what to do and who to be. The future and the past will take care of themselves.” In this speech, she announced her moonshot goal of raising and donating $1 million for her library, and this prize will go toward that fund.
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. Eldred for not only the outstanding work she has done in Hollidaysburg over the course of her career, but for her determination to continue serving her community despite the immense complications of her condition,” said Lemony Snicket jury Chair Becca Worthington. “She is an extraordinary and unique example of humility, integrity, and dignity in the face of adversity.”
In response to receiving the award, Eldred said, “This news is overwhelming and humbling, and I could not be more surprised and grateful to the entire jury and of course to Mr. Snicket (Handler) for his tremendous generosity.” She continued, “I am proud to have lived in Hollidaysburg borough for over 30 years and to have served all seven municipalities in the Hollidaysburg Area for nearly 17 years. I have always done my best, because library service is worth everything I can give, and our neighbors deserve it. If the trinket in the prize package is shiny, I will bounce the light onto our wonderful community. Thank you for this honor.”
"Every year Lisa Brown and I are proud and humbled to acknowledge a librarian working diligently and imaginatively in the midst of trouble. As people who have experienced firsthand the challenges of a loved one with early-onset dementia, the selection of Ms. Eldred is particularly inspiring," said Daniel Handler.
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 administered by ALA’s Governance Office, 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.
Eldred will be joining the list of prize winners. Other esteemed past winners include 2020 winner Heather Ogilvie 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 2021 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity five-member jury included: Jury Chair Becca Worthington, ImaginOn children’s librarian, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, North Carolina; Charity Cree, programs manager, Mid-Columbia Libraries, Kennewick, Washington; Patricia Glass Schuman, retired, past president of ALA and Neal- Schuman Publishers Delray Beach, Florida; Julia Warga, director for research and instruction, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio; and Sandy Wee, library service manager, San Mateo County Libraries, San Mateo, California.
The deadline for submission of applications for the 2022 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity will be February 1. Guidelines and applications are available on the ALA website.
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