By DANIEL KITTREDGE While it was not the celebration Director Ed Garcia would have liked, last Friday's gathering in the William Hall Library's auditorium was nonetheless a special occasion for the leadership and staff of the city's library system. A
While it was not the celebration Director Ed Garcia would have liked, last Friday’s gathering in the William Hall Library’s auditorium was nonetheless a special occasion for the leadership and staff of the city’s library system.
A number of dignitaries were on hand to recognize the Cranston Public Library for winning the 2020 Jerry Kline Community Impact Award, which recognizes the library as a “vital community asset” and carries a $250,000 prize.
“We are so proud and thankful to receive this award … It’s truly an honor for the library to be recognized on a national level,” Garcia said.
Of the library’s staff, he added: “I’m always in awe of the work that they do in the community.” He spoke of hopes to hold additional celebrations at the various library branches as the weather warms and, hopefully, the COVID-19 crisis continues to abate.
The award is named for Kline, a businessman and philanthropist whose family foundation partnered with the publication Library Journal to create the Community Impact Prize as a means of recognizing public library systems across the country for their contributions to local communities. The prize was first awarded in 2019 to the Sacramento Public Library in California.
In a press release last year, Library Journal – which ran a cover photo and feature on the Cranston Public Library in its November 2020 issue – pointed to the library’s role in the formation of the OneCranston organization and its work in other areas, including adapted programming during the pandemic, as key to its selection.
Garcia previously said plans were in place for the financial award from the prize to be directed to an investment account through the nonprofit Cranston Public Library Association. Last week, he said the funding will provide for something resembling an endowment, used over time to support “innovative programs for the community into the future.”
“It’s going to have a tremendous impact on our community,” he said.
During last week’s ceremony, Garcia recognized those in attendance, including U.S. Sen. Jack Reed; former mayor Allan Fung; current Mayor Ken Hopkins; Jack Tregar, chairman of the library’s Board of Trustees; Karen Mellor, Rhode Island’s chief of library services; and Julie Holden, assistant director of the Cranston Public Library.
“[Holden has] been my trust partner running this library for the past six years, and she doesn’t always get the recognition she deserves, but her hard work and dedication make everything that we do possible,” he said.
Garcia additionally recognized Lisa Kirshenbaum, the city’s former grant writer, for her assistance with the library’s application for the award, and thanked the library’s OneCranston partners, including CCAP, Cranston Public Schools and the Cranston YMCA.
“We’ve been able to start some very important work in building equity, diversity and inclusion across our community,” he said. “And that work still continues now.”
He also introduced “two women that really helped make this award possible” – Leslie Straus, library grants director from the Klein Foundation, and Rebecca Miller, publisher of Library Journal.
Straus said reviewing the applications for last year’s Community Impact Award was “very humbling and inspiring.” Cranston’s nomination – submitted by Fung – “stood out” due to the library system’s “demonstrable relationships that it had with its civic authority, with the schools, with community members.”
“It wasn’t just the application, it was the three letters of reference … and our follow-up in person with the folks who wrote those letters,” she said.
Miller noted that the library system was a runner-up for Library Journal’s Library Aware Award in 2016. That recognition, she said, also spoke to the “community centricity” of the city’s library system.
“I felt that that was just a hint of the work that this library was going to be undertaking … I was really excited to see Cranston win [the Community Impact Award],” she said.
Aside from honoring the library system, last week’s event also served as an opportunity for Reed to highlight his proposed Build America’s Libraries Act, which according to an outline seeks $5 billion in federal funding to “repair, modernize and construct library facilities in underserved and marginalized communities.” The measure’s cosponsors include Reed’s Senate colleagues Sheldon Whitehouse, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Reed called libraries “launching pads,” noting that Kline began is career working in the University of California Berkeley library in the 1970s.
“Another young man who grew up in Cranston, and used to walk up to the steps of the Auburn Public Library … is here today to say that’s what helped propel me forward,” the senator said. The Auburn library, he noted, was then located at the corner of Park Avenue and Woodbine Street.
Reed said the Cranston Public Library “to me has always been a really special treasure.” Libraries more broadly, he said, are a “common good.”
“They’re a critical component of America’s education network, connecting people to information, technology and opportunities for advancement,” he said.
That aspect of libraries’ work, Reed said, will be especially vital as the nation emerges from the pandemic. He said libraries are “perfectly positioned to help us” in terms of connecting people with technology, job training, employment opportunities and other resources, and he pitched the Build America’s Libraries Act as a way to support that mission – particularly when it comes to reaching communities that have historical lacked access.
“This is not about the past, this is also about the future … We’re looking to seize the moment in every community that benefits from a public library,” he said.