This past week I was thrilled and stunned to be informed that I was receiving the 2016 AASL Distinguished Service Award. It took about 24 hours for it to sink in. Once it did, I began thinking about the other awards AASL gives and what an opportunity these present for school librarians.
Check out the Awards and Grants page on the AASL website. There are six awards listed in addition to the Distinguished Service Award. Each of them can bring attention to you and your library program. But you do need to submit an application.
Now is an excellent time to explore the possibilities. Since most of the applications are due on February 1 you’ll have time to look them over, choose the best fit for you and then slowly begin filling out the forms. No pressure. It won’t be due for months.
The National School Library Program of the Year award is the big one. Three different schools or districts can win the award in any one year, and some years only one or two get it. The process for this one is arduous so an early start is vital. Consider checking past winners and contacting them to see if they have any helpful advice. You don’t have to be from a wealthy district. A few years ago, an inner city school won.
If you are among the finalists, the committee comes for an on-site visit. Imagine the excitement of this group coming to your town/city to see your school. The whole school turns out to welcome them. And your library program is acknowledged for being considered as one of the year’s exemplary programs. Winning schools get $10,000 which will make any administrator take notice.
Want to start a bit smaller? Consider the Collaborative School Library Award. If you and one or more teachers have developed a great collaborative program that had students excited about learning and gives them an opportunity be producers of information, making a contribution to the community, and using critical and creative thinking skills this award is for you. In addition to the usual plaque, it also carries a $2,500 monetary prize,
Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award “recognizes and encourages collaboration and partnerships between school librarians and teachers in teaching social justice through joint planning of a program, unit or event in support of social justice using school library resources.” Just reviewing the criteria and description might give you an idea of something you can plan with a teacher who likes to work with you. This one awards $2,000 to the librarian plus $1,000 for travel and housing at the ALA Conference and a donation $5,000 worth of books from Penguin Random House.
The Intellectual Freedom Award is not one you would plan for. It goes to a librarian who has stood up for the principles of Intellectual Freedom which usually means he/she stood fast in the face of a challenge to a book or other library material. Although state library associations and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom offer support, the fact is the librarian is most often alone in the firestorm. It is an example of courage in upholding core principles of librarianship. Winners receive $2,000 plus $1,000 for their library. While you always hope nothing like this happens to you, if it does, do apply for the award. It’s important to get the word out, and it’s another validation for you in your school and district.
Are you blessed with a wonderful administrator? Nominate him/her for the Distinguished School Administrator Award. Winners receive $2,000 and of course a plaque. Our best advocates are often administrators. Give them a chance to talk about what they see as the importance of school librarians and school library programs. As winners they may be asked to speak at their own state and national conference. It also won’t hurt your standing that you brought this fame to him/her.
Just below the list of awards are the grants. Don’t overlook these. For two reasons, my favorite is the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries. First, and most personally, Ruth Toor was my co-author and friend for over 35 years. She is no longer able to participate in library activities, but this is how her husband has chosen to honor her contributions. My second reason is my own (and Ruth’s) recognition of the importance of librarians having advocacy programs to promote the library to the entire educational community—and sometimes the local community itself.
Look at the criteria for the award and its requirements. If you can come up with a plan that can be replicated and/or adopted by others, put it together and apply for the award. The winner gets $3,000 to carry out the program plus $2,000 for the librarian and the school official or volunteer to attend the AASL Conference or the ALA Conference.
The Innovative Reading Grant addresses a core belief of libraranship – the importance of reading. If you have (or can come up with) a unique and innovative plan to motivate readers particularly those who struggle, this is one to look at closely. It carries a monetary award of $2,500, and just think of the difference your program can make in the lives of students.
I know you are all very busy, and applying for these awards takes time. But the possible rewards are great, and I am not referring to the monetary prizes. If you win a national award your district will take notice. Your Board of Education is likely to honor you and it is likely to be covered in the local newspaper. You bring attention and acclaim to your library program and make people aware of the importance of what you do.
Get started on applying for one of these. Good luck – and keep us posted.