Library Journal recognizes Topeka library

Ryan Thompson

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) received the Library of the Year award June 26 at the American Library Association conference in Orlando, Florida.

Library Journal sponsors the Library of the Year award annually for libraries across the United States and Canada that lead the field in community service and innovation. In addition to international recognition, the award also comes with a $10,000 prize. Library Journal officially announced TSCPL as the 2016 library of the year June 7.

For the application, TSCPL submitted a 23 page document outlining their accomplishments and the various services they provide to the city of Topeka.

“We told a very compelling story,” said Gina Millsap, chief executive officer of TSCPL. “It’s not necessarily a laundry list of all the wonderful things we do, or our great statistics, but it’s what they represent, the difference we make for individual people in the community and the community overall.”

TSCPL works to promote early childhood literacy, community health and lifetime learning.

“More learning probably occurs out of the classroom than in,” Millsap said. “We consider ourselves to be part of the educational ecosystem of the community. There are opportunities at this library that they probably haven’t discovered yet. We hope that the award sparks their curiosity and their interest.”

Tom Averill, professor of English, believes the success of TSCPL lies in the passion and helpfulness of its staff. Averill has a long history with the public library beginning when he moved to Topeka in 1953 and he has been involved in a number of the events the library has hosted.

“It’s a warm environment,” Averill said. “They are hiring the kind of staff that likes to put on events and promote reading and writing in the community.”

Averill also stresses the connection between TSCPL and Washburn University.

“They’ve had the good sense to hire a lot of people from Washburn,” Averill said. “The woman who wrote the application that got TSCPL the distinction is a writing emphasis major from Washburn University. Her name is Leah Sewell. When you have people on staff who really care about reading, writing and programming and they’re well educated, it does make a difference.”

Millsap hopes Topekans will find a sense of civic pride in this award.

“The fact that we are a world class library is something that all of us own and get to take credit for,” Millsap said. “There’s no library of the year without a community that supports and loves its library.”

Going forward, TSCPL plans to start a program to prepare children for kindergarten. The library will also continue to promote reading, writing and a passion for learning. Millsap wants to make it clear the staff at TSCPL are not ones to rest on their laurels.

“We want people to understand, when you’re a reader, you’re part of a larger community that shares stories and learning experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” Millsap said.