Awards, and the Work That Wins Them

By Kniffel, Leonard | American Libraries, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Awards, and the Work That Wins Them


Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries


To be honest about it, I never really put much stock in awards. Oh sure, I watch the Oscars--but mostly to make fun of the gowns and the nominees for best song. I used to watch the Miss America Pageant, until it became, rather than amusing, kind of pathetic.

Every September, since coming to American Libraries 18 years ago, I have dutifully helped put together the ALA awards section (p. 42), with a certain amount of wonder at the sheer number of the little critters. This is a profession that desperately needs to be told how good it is, I thought. It has taken many years for me to understand why.

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Awards are not so much about the people who win them as the work that earns them. ALA awards, grants, and scholarships recognize the day-to-day achievements and ambitions of often low-paid professionals dedicated to the quality of life in their communities and to the preservation and dissemination of the human record. The importance of any award--or conversely its ridiculousness--can be judged by the significance of the work it lauds.

I have come to understand that one of the main reasons professionals band together and form associations is to agree on standards of achievement and to reward professional excellence, peer to peer. Awards are so coveted that some publishers create then just to build magazine covers and feature articles around them.

Although awards in library and information science and technology may not pack the wallop of last year's best song Oscar winner "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," they do showcase outstanding career achievements and cutting-edge programs, from Honorary Membership to Robert D. Stueart for his stellar career as an educator at Simmons College, all the way to the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois, for its dinosaur exhibit that "revitalized the role of the library as teacher. …

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