If Libraries are More than Just Books, Then Where are All the Damn Technology Awards?

The first draft title for this post was “If Libraries are More than Just Books, then Why Are There So Many Damn Book Awards?” but I figured that some humorless literal folks would see it as a challenge to giving out book awards. I don’t have any qualms about recognizing authors and illustrators for their fine efforts and I’d rather not get bogged down sidetracked with the elaborate interworkings of the book awards world. However, if the case is being made that libraries are more than just books and then the largest and most visible library association in the United States (the ALA) hands out awards mainly to people who create books, then there is some sort of dissonance afoot.

In looking through the Awards and Grants page on the ALA website, the first section entitled “Books, Print, & Media awards” has thirty eight awards of which only three are for non-book accomplishments (ABC-CLIO Online History Award, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video, and the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production). Two of these are duplicated “Youth Media Awards” which lists seventeen awards. None of these are for the creation, development, and/or use of technology in the library (although there could be a very muddled argument for the ABC-CLIO one).

To be fair, there are probably technology based awards in the Professional Recognition section; I only scanned the list for any that sounded promisingly and didn’t click on all of them. I will concede that there are probably some technology awards hidden in there that I just didn’t discover. But my counterargument would be that those professional awards don’t share the same stature as a Newbery or Caldecott or Printz accolades. They aren’t public facing nor further a idea that the library is collaborative learning space or internet and information access location.  

I will also concede that the awards I have mentioned specifically predate the digital age and are the product of years of reputation building. There is a lot to be said about the continued tradition of recognition in this aspect and I fully support the continuation of such awards. However, given the movement towards digital and technology integration into the modern library, shouldn’t there be national library association awards to reflect the innovations and efforts of individuals and industries that exemplify that?

Somebody call Bill Gates. He’s a fan of libraries and seems to know a thing or two about the digital age. He might just like the sound of the “Bill Gates Library Technology Award” complete with his face in a bronze medallion. Traditions start somewhere and this one should begin with recognizing the people who make library technology and information retrieval possible at a national level. If libraries are more than just books, then this would be a start to acknowledging it as part of our own professional culture.

19 thoughts on “If Libraries are More than Just Books, Then Where are All the Damn Technology Awards?

    • Hey yeah, there you go! I wonder if they have discussed a more casual “Library Tech of the Year” award in the past? Maybe one that isn’t tied to an endowment, since that be kind of daunting to start & also more restrictive sometimes.

    • Thanks for the list, John. I’m not going to nitpick at each award as to whether or not it would qualify, but I do like it as start towards a national level award.

  1. Andy, I like it. I’ve got no power, but I’m willing to support! Probably not with LITA, unfortunately. I’ve been a member for years now, and find, increasingly, that the research they publish and seminars they sponsor have little or nothing to help public librarians. When I renew, I’ll be leaving that one off.

  2. Here are a few awards that recognize libraries/librarians for more than just books:

    OITP does this yearly award (multiple kinds of libraries can be recognized): http://www.ala.org/offices/oitp/cuttingedge

    AASL Information Technology Pathfinder Award: http://www.ala.org/aasl/aaslawards/itpathfinderawd/itpathfinder

    AASL National School Library Program of the Year Award (which is comprehensive that emphasizes multiple areas of excellence in school library programs): http://www.ala.org/aasl/aaslawards/nslpy/nslpy

    AASL also recognizes “Best Websites for Teaching and Learning” http://www.ala.org/aasl/guidelinesandstandards/bestlist/bestwebsitestop25

    • Excellent. I knew there were more awards out there, but I’m still going to harp on the Caldecott level of awarding. Even with the LITA list, that is still a division of ALA rather than the umbrella organization.

      • I agree it would be great to see some awards for areas of librarianship (service, innovation, digital literacy, etc.) that were elevated to the level of some of the book awards (and I am a fan of the book awards, btw).

      • Well Caldecott is run by the ALSC division not just ALA in general. And it would be very difficult for any tech award to meet the Caldecott level since Caldecott has such a long history behind it. It will take a long time for newer awards to build that kind of legacy & validity amongst the community.

        • Kristin, those are all excellent (and accurate) points. Perhaps now or the not so distant future will be the beginning of additional awards in other areas of librarianship/libraries (in addition to the existing ones that are respected and rightfully so) that will grow in stature over time.

      • Yeah, but so is the Caldecott, right? I mean it’s an ALSC award, not an ALA award. As are almost all of the Youth Media Awards (either ALSC or YALSA or joint). I did want to mention that I was pleased that this year, for the first time, submissions for the Notable Children’s Recordings list could be digital. I sat on the committee and listened to a few submissions that came as mp3s via my email rather than CDs in the post. It was a nice start!

  3. Off topic for Mike the Librarian: how can we make it easier for public library folks to get their work out there in LITA? Academic folks have requirements to get published, so there’s always tons of content coming in from them. I’ve been on the Forum committee a few times and we always tried to not have academics completely dominate, or at least pick topics that would be translatable. As LITA’s current membership committee chair, I’d love to hear your perspective. bmljenny at gmail if you’re interested in giving me more of an earful!

  4. I’m having trouble visualizing a public-facing Library Technology Award with that kind of prestige. What kind of technology projects would be honored? Would there be sufficient public interest in those kinds of achievements? I don’t see some new innovation in information retrieval attracting the kind of public attention that makes the Today Show want to do a segment. It’s a niche interest more important to librarians than the general public. It seems like even our regular patrons don’t care about the underlying technology and don’t really want to hear about it.

    • I don’t think this award would be for technology like you referenced but rather how any library is using technology to engage patrons (see the OITP Award I listed in an earlier comment). I think something like what the YOUMedia Lab in Chicago is doing would be a great example of innovative use of technology to engage and empower patrons.

  5. Please let me follow up by saying I don’t think an award is a bad idea. I just think expecting it to have the public following of the Caldecott or Newbery is unrealistic.

  6. I agree and I think it’s an important goal for ALA to consider. That being said, it would take some time for any award to gain the fame of the book awards. Also, when it comes to technology, you cannot compare the volume of technologies developed in a year to the number of books written. Even if an award was won, I don’t know that it would drive people to use a particular technology as much as book awards drive people to read particular books. Possible honoring specific library YouTube videos or cell phone apps or games might get some followers.

    Although not quite an award, I think the PRIMO committee does an excellent job honoring instruction librarians with their “site of the month”:)
    http://www.ala.org/acrl/aboutacrl/directoryofleadership/sections/is/iswebsite/projpubs/primo Only really of interest to librarians, though.

    P.S. Didn’t the Today Show end their segment on the book-award winners? 😦

  7. I have a problem with the Premise! Technology Awards? I think this is a worthwhile discussion, but it needs to head in the direction of “Innovation Awards” and not technology (technology is a tool, like a pencil….

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