10 Branches Win NYC Neighborhood Library Awards

NYC Neighborhood Libraries_groupLibrary leaders, staff, friends, and council members gathered May 20 in a grand celebration atop New York City’s Hearst Tower to for the second NYC Neighborhood Library Awards. This year, the Charles H. Revson Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation teamed up to make the awards even more impactful, doubling the total award amounts and creating strong engagement with library users along the way. The ten winning branch libraries were selected from more than 13,000 nominations. The five winners, which each received $20,000, are: Langston Hughes Library, Corona (Queens); Mott Haven Library, Mott Haven (the Bronx); New Lots Library, East New York (Brooklyn); Parkchester Library, Parkchester (the Bronx); and Stapleton Library, Stapleton (Staten Island).
NYC Neighborhood Libraries_groupLibrary leaders, staff, friends, and council members gathered May 20 in a grand celebration atop New York City’s Hearst Tower for the second NYC Neighborhood Library Awards. This year, the Charles H. Revson Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation teamed up to make the awards even more impactful, doubling the total award amounts and creating strong engagement with library users along the way. The ten winning branch libraries were selected from more than 13,000 nominations. The five grand prize winners, which each received $20,000, are: Langston Hughes Library, Corona (Queens); Mott Haven Library, Mott Haven (the Bronx); New Lots Library, East New York (Brooklyn); Parkchester Library, Parkchester (the Bronx); and Stapleton Library, Stapleton (Staten Island). Finalists Cambria Heights Library, Cambria Heights (Queens); Clinton Hill Library, Clinton Hill (Brooklyn); Jefferson Market Library, Greenwich Village (Manhattan); Sunnyside Library, Sunnyside (Queens); and Windsor Terrace Library, Windsor Terrace (Brooklyn) each received $10,000. The panel of judges was made up of notable New Yorkers—authors Maira Kalman, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Jacqueline Woodson; Dutton Children’s Books publisher Julie Strauss-Gabel, and Maya Wiley, Counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio—and administrator Susan Hildreth, former director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

DOUBLING THE PRIZE

The NYC Neighborhood Library Awards were originally launched in summer 2013 by the Revson Foundation, a grant-making organization that focuses on urban affairs, Jewish life, biomedical research, and education. Revson Foundation president Julie Sandorf honed her interest in libraries through a long career in community development, including work with the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. As the cofounder of Nextbook, an organization dedicated to Jewish culture and literature, she visited libraries of all sizes across the nation. “I came back to New York City and looked at the really sorry state of the branch libraries here,” Sandorf told LJ. “They are the centerpieces of cultural, intellectual, and social life in towns across this country, and we have not kept pace.” The first year, the Revson Foundation invited New York City residents to tell the world about the unique ways their local branch libraries worked to meet the needs of their neighborhoods, with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show promoting the call for entries over a six-week period. Out of 4,310 nominations, a panel of judges selected five winning branches, each of which received $10,000. In 2014, the Revson Foundation was joined by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, an international philanthropic organization. Members of the two foundations had been discussing their respective library initiatives, including a collaboration that the Niarchos Foundation has been involved in since 2011 with the National Library of Greece. “We told them about the NYC Library Awards and how we did it last year,” explained Revson program officer Maria Marcantonio, “and they thought it would be a great idea to join forces to strengthen and grow it even more.” The partnership enabled them to expand the award’s outreach and double the grand prize money. “They were just wonderful partners,” Marcantonio said. New York City’s three library systems—Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library—posted electronic nomination forms on their websites. Promotional materials and paper forms translated into Spanish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, and French Creole were sent to each of the city’s 207 branches. Among other questions, they asked respondents:
  • How do you use your neighborhood library? Why are these library services important to you?
  • Tell us about your community and what your neighborhood library does for people in your community.
  • Why should your library win an NYC Neighborhood Library Award?
The Brian Lehrer Show again served as the awards’ media partner, announcing the launch of the nomination process and following up with five weeks of programming devoted to writers talking about the books that opened their own minds to new ways of thinking.

"THE BEST OF THE BEST"

The response, Sandorf told LJ, left her “absolutely flabbergasted.” The number of nominations more than tripled this year, she said, demonstrating “how many stories [New Yorkers] have about their commitment, their love, and their need for the city’s libraries.” Every branch in the city was nominated at least eight times; some, as many as 600. Processing them, she said, was a “huge amount of work.” Sandorf, the staff, and friends of the Foundation read every nomination, in some cases more than once. Over 3,000 entries were paper nominations, which had to be transcribed into the awards database. Criteria for choosing the finalists included not only the range of programs and services provided by the branches nominated, said Sandorf, but “the quality and the passion with which [the nominations] were written, the compelling and surprising stories.” The list was narrowed to 50 branches, then 25. The award staff visited each in person, and convened a 20-person philanthropic advisory panel representing foundations across New York City to help select the ten finalists. The judges met face to face in February to decide the winners. Hildreth was struck, she told LJ, by how quickly the panel was able to reach a decision. “It was amazing,” she said. “We had a lot of information but fairly early on in the discussion process there was consensus on a number of the winners.” Hildreth felt that the finalists “were all very much in tune with what was going on in the neighborhood, and I think they represented the best of the best of library service in all of the boroughs of New York. It was amazing, some of the things they were doing with not much money at all.”

A BOOK HOOK

Thousands of people also answered the form’s final, optional question, which Marcantonio described as “something that we thought would be fun and interesting to get people talking more about their libraries and the role they played in their childhood and life”: What book did you love so much that it made you want to go to your library and take out another? While the results didn’t factor into the awards, the results, Marcantonio said, were fascinating. “What we thought was interesting was how some of these books would come from such drastically different communities, such different age groups,” she told LJ. The book most noted by respondents age 41–65, To Kill a Mockingbird, was mentioned in nominations from some 27 different libraries across all five boroughs, from people who “identified as parents and retirees and immigrants and students, and they all had their unique stories.” The book most mentioned by library patrons 12 and under was Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, 13–17-year-olds called out “The Hunger Games” series, and readers 65 and over cited the books of James Patterson. Perhaps unsurprisingly the biggest age demographic—library users age 18–40—mentioned the “Harry Potter” series. Most important, however, were the testimonies of users across the city. “Libraries are the go-to place,” said Sandorf, “for everything from learning English as a second language, which is really important in a city with 41% immigrant population, to the safe haven for after schools, to community cultural events, to the sheer pleasure of reading and having access to books and materials that you could not otherwise afford. That was a very big theme in the stories people wrote as well, that ‘but for the library, I couldn’t afford to read books.’ I mean, think about what that means.”

VIDEO VALIDATION

The award ceremony, held in Midtown Manhattan, was an upbeat affair. Given the recent cuts to library funding proposed in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s FY16 Executive Budget, both winners and runners-up were delighted at their windfalls, given to each library to use at its discretion. Grand prize winners and finalists alike also received a unique two-minute video by filmmakers Juliane Dressner and Jesse Hicks. The videos celebrate the character and importance of each branch, highlighting a gamut of library users: high school volunteers, job seekers, book groups, English learners, and many more. As each was screened, the library supporters and government staffers in attendance commented, quipped, and testified to the videos’ impact. Everyone should watch them, said Council majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer, so they could see that “libraries are worth every single penny of the $65 million we need this year” to restore city library funding to pre-2008 levels. “What we know is that these things happen every day in every library in our city,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras, adding that as a young library intern, “I learned the Dewey Decimal System and that’s why I’m finance chair—just saying!” Nessa Rapoport, senior program officer for the Revson Foundation, noted that as she read applications and visited branches she was often moved to tears by the valuable work being done. “The library is a sanctuary,” she stated, “and a galaxy of possibility for the community.” The most moving testimonies, however, were found in the videos themselves: Langston Hughes Library “When I first started coming to the Langston Hughes Library, predominantly it was a black neighborhood. But now we have a very large community of Latino children and Asian children…. Here you have a black poet doing Langston Hughes poetry. They get a cross-cultural experience.” Mott Haven Library “You got people who went to college that could be role models, because a lot of times people don’t have role models in their home. So if you can get it somewhere, then hey—get it at the library…. Me walking in here showed me that there’s more to the world.” New Lots Library “When I came here at 50 years old, I can’t read, I can’t write. My teacher in the library teach me how to read, how to write…. Before, I feel embarrassed. Now, I start to read. I don’t want to call someone to write something for me. I can write by myself. God bless me.” Parkchester Library “I was laid off a month shy of 11 years. It was a hard pill to swallow. I was in shock…. The library was the only place I could think of to come to in order to get myself back on my feet…. You come here, and it just gives you a moment to kind of gather your thoughts. The library helps you get in that frame of mind. They have a job board. I also utilize the library for the computer training that they offer each month…. It has kept me on track. Again: it saved my life. It really did.” Stapleton Library “On my refrigerator is the calendar of the kids’ programs at the library. They love every program that goes on over there. It’s only a block away, so all you’ve got to do is just weather the rain or the snow that one block, and then you’re safe. You’re in the warmth.” The NYC Neighborhood Library Awards have been called “the Oscars for libraries”—they are the largest award given to community libraries in the United States. Sandorf sees the award not just as recognition, however, but as a strong tool of advocacy. “It’s the argument for making the infrastructure improvements,” she explained—New York City’s branch libraries are in need of some $1.5 billion in capital repairs. “Many people talked about the fact that librarians had extraordinary service despite the fact that they had to deal with leaking roofs and caving in floors…. Against all odds people are still coming out and making incredible use of their libraries.” “We could put out 20 awards,” she added. “There are that many wonderful neighborhood libraries.”

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.