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Monday, October 23, 2017

On Being Honored

Leah Langby at podium, gesturing
Photo credit:  Kris Adams Wendt (she says the magical hands were not intentional, but appropriate!)
Last week, I had the experience of a lifetime, as I was honored as the WLA/Demco Wisconsin Librarian of the Year.  The honor itself, plus the kind words of colleagues from around the state, are incredible and amazing.  And working with librarians in Wisconsin is a reward in itself. 

Here's the text of the speech I gave upon receiving it:

My superpower is noticing and appreciating people.  I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be noticed and appreciated myself, especially on this grand scale!  Thank you so much to the committee who nominated me for this award—Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, Jessi Peterson, Jenna Gilles-Turner, and Shawn Brommer!  Thanks also to the award committee for this honor, and for all the behind-the scenes work you’ve done!

As long as I’m thanking people, I have a few more thanks to get off my chest, to some people who have supported my professional and personal development:

  • ·        To my lovely husband Dean, my closest confidante, calmer-downer-in-chief, and the person who is best at reminding me to be kind and gentle with myself.
  • ·        To my daughters, Alice and Olivia, who inspire me, cheer me on, and challenge me to think differently about things.
  • ·        To my co-workers at IFLS.  It’s a lot easier to do cool or difficult things when you have the tactical support of your colleagues.  And in particular I’d like to give a shout-out to John Thompson.  I recognize how lucky I am to be able to go to my boss with an idea and have him invariably be receptive, supportive, and willing to help me figure out how to make it happen.
  • ·        To the remarkable librarians I work with in IFLS-land.  These folks are often understaffed, usually undercompensated, serving the public with compassion and conviction, creating innovative and effective programs, services and partnerships, and are almost always willing to serve on a task force, present at a workshop, or mentor a new librarian.
  • ·        To my amazing counterparts at systems across the state, at DPI, my sister Youth Services Section board members, and all the other folks who have served on statewide committees with me.  You inspire me to work with intention, and you do so much to collaborate and improve support and service across the state.  I love learning from you and working with you.
  • ·        To my partners outside the library world, who help me to think about things with a different lens.
  • ·        And to everyone else who I know has helped me be who I am along the way, from the public and school librarians who served me as a kid, to my library school professors, to professors like Paul Wellstone who lit the fire of social justice in my belly, to all the colleagues and teachers who have helped me learn about libraries and life, to a family of origin that valued learning and humanity—we would be here all night if I tried to name everyone, or even every category of person, who has made a big difference in my professional development!

We are in a fraught and heartbreaking time right now.  Natural and human-made disasters abound, and it can be hard to maintain any sort of equilibrium.  People in our state, nation, and world are dealing with oppression, violence, and personal catastrophes of epic proportions.  I don’t say all of this to kill the buzz here, but rather because I want to point out that I wholeheartedly believe that there is terrific potential for libraries to make a difference.  Librarians all over the state and country are looking at our policies, our collections, our spaces, our workforce—and making them more inclusive, welcoming, and equitable.  We’re considering ways to help people make sense of the news, and discern what is fake news.  We are thinking about how best to support children and families.  We are innovating services for seniors and students, and everyone in between.  We are working with partners, and learning to take a step back and work with intention toward our mission, and toward the goals of our communities.  I am excited about the direction we are headed.

This award means so much to me because it comes from my colleagues—people I deeply admire and respect.  I am fully aware that just about everyone in this room deserves this kind of recognition—so many of you contribute so much to your own community and to the library community. And even though I’ve been having anxiety dreams about losing my knack for providing storytime, and thereby being undeserving of this award,  it’s thrilling to realize that, as Sally Fields said so eloquently, “I can’t deny you like me, right now, you like me!”  And guess what?  I like you!  I really, really like you!  And I am honored to work with such an amazing group of public servants.

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