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This is a guest post contributed by William LeMaire, Chair of the Durango Public Library Advisory Board.
In 2017, the Library Advisory Board (LAB) for the Durango Public Library launched the Library Community Champion award program. In September 2019, two individuals were honored with this distinction: former presidents of the Friends of the Library, Nancy Peake and Maile Kane. In 2018 the recipient was Steve Redding, a former LAB chair and board member who played a major role in raising funds for the award-winning library, which opened in 2009. In 2017, the first year the award was presented, two individuals were honored. Lynne Hardy was recognized for her 18 years of service as a library volunteer. She was joined in the award, posthumously, by one of Durango’s iconic community organizers, Beverly Darmour.
The LAB serves the library in an advisory capacity, acting as the eyes and ears of the community with regards to the library’s operations and needs. It does not act in a governing capacity; the library’s staff reports to city management and city council. Five individuals comprise the LAB with three appointed by Durango City Council and two appointed by LaPlata County Commissioners. The LAB does weigh staff requests and recommend disbursement of funds from the Building Fund, residual monies from an earlier fundraising program for building the library.
The impetus behind the Library Community Champion (LCC) program evolved from a discussion at a board meeting in the spring of 2016 when a member sought a means to honor a former, long-serving board member. A number of ideas were aired but each was burdened by a disqualifying conflict or difficulty. At a subsequent meeting, Library Director Sandy Irwin shared how some communities honored select citizens with a Community Champion award. Irwin wondered if a similar program—dedicated to library volunteerism—might provide a solution. That idea was discussed, motioned, seconded, and voted into existence. Nominations from the community at large are accepted for several months through the spring and summer. The winner is subsequently selected by a committee of five comprised of members from the LAB, the Friends of the Library (FOL), and library staff. The presentation ceremony typically takes place in September, often during Banned Books week.
The purpose of the award is two-fold: one, to recognize individuals who have contributed in some singular fashion to the library’s growth and success and, two, to underscore the importance of volunteerism to the library. Approximately 50 people currently volunteer in some capacity for the library. Additionally, the Friends of the Library auxiliary is very active, sustained by nearly 120 volunteers working at the FOL bookstore, three annual book sales, and other fundraising activities. The FOL also sponsors an annual community-wide Literary Fest. Volunteers provide an important complement to the professional staff.
The LAB seeks to make the award event meaningful and festive. The presentation ceremony is accompanied by refreshments and attended by a sizeable number of citizens, community leaders and elected officials. Each recipient is presented a handsome glass trophy, their name is inscribed on a special plaque denoting LCC awardees, and a proclamation honoring them is read into the record at a city council meeting. They also are recognized by an item in the local newspaper. The awardees are further honored with a “bookcase stone” placed in a large garden located behind the library maintained by the Durango Botanical Society (DBS). Bookcase stones are a fundraising program by DBS on which the names of people or organizations are inscribed on a stone resembling the spine of a book. The stone is then placed on a steel shelf affixed to the exterior wall of the library, amid the gardens. The bookcase stones of LCC winners are placed on a shelf exclusive to LCC awardees.
The Library Community Champion award and its attendant publicity not only honors singular efforts on behalf of the library but also underscores the library’s value to the community. Durango’s library, like most, must contend with tightening, competitive budgets. The more the board can interact with citizens and elected officials through events like this, the better able we are to demonstrate value to the community.
What might we change or improve upon? We probe that question every year. At this point we think we need to generate more nominations and further enrobe what we think of as “unsung” heroes, those less out-in-front as officers or board members. We also need to generate further publicity in the local newspapers and other media. We are most pleased with this program and excited to see it evolve further into a signature event in the city and county.