Last week, the North Suburban Library System held its 17th annual awards banquet. The occasion was dubbed the "Night of the Library Stars" because we put our seven award-winners front and center. Each winner gets a certificate and a gift, and the opportunity to address the audience, in this case about 320 wild, enthusiastic library friends and advocates. But perhaps the biggest prize conferred on winners is the esteem of peers. There is nothing like the respect and affirmation of those who have a deep understanding of your work. Others might be fooled by lights and mirrors, but not your colleagues. They know what it takes to be a winner.
Several years ago, we moved our awards process from nominations on paper which were reviewed by a committee to an online process. This dramatically democratized the process. For example, all nominations are now available for everyone to see online. Even if a nominee doesn't win, he or she has the glory of being nominated. All NSLS members are invited to read the nominations and vote. In recent years, we are seeing more winners from the rank and file of library workers instead of the winners' circle being dominated by higher level administrators.
What does it take to win an award? One must have achieved something unique, impressive, or at least cuddly. The writer of the nomination needs to be a storyteller and to make the case for the nominee. The nominator should also consider the proclivities of the award decision makers. In online awards, this is different from in the nominations decided by a committee of academic librarians, for example.
Judy Hoffman, NSLS's marketing specialist and one of the organizers of our awards process, said, "One key to a winning nomination is that it needs to be well-written. The nomination does not have to be long-winded, but must be sufficiently descriptive to motivate the reader to endorse or vote for the nominee. It should be thoughtfully structured and free of grammatical errors. Slapped together nominations have no legs."
Debbie Baaske, NSLS special projects coordinator and our other awards organizer, said, "The one thing I would probably add is the networking aspect. The recipients tend to be networkers or work cooperatively with others. People vote for them because they know who they are or know of them. You don't tend to win if you are a loner and keep to yourself or even just keep within your organization. Also, the nomination needs to be specific. Saying someone is wonderful, intelligent, caring, etc. is all well and good, but what have they done specifically to deserve the nomination? The writer of a winning nomination needs to provide details."
Just like at the Academy Awards, one of the high points of the evening is the acceptance speeches. We ask winners to limit their remarks to a minute or two but whatever they say, it's always heartfelt and very moving. A complete list of this year's winners can be accessed at nsls.info/awards.
This week I interviewed four of the winners on my podcast, "Longshots." Listen to Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie Public Library and winner of the Library of the Year award; Denise Raleigh, director of marketing, development and communication for the Gail Borden Public Library and winner of the Marketing Award; Laura Beltchenko, assistant superintendent of Wauconda Community Unit School District 118 and winner of the Advocate of the Year award; and Deb Will, instructional materials center coordinator for Zion-Benton Township High School and winner of the Innovation Award, speak about their award-winning efforts at librarybeat.org/podcast.