Virginia Library Association Announces 2019 Award Winners

The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) has selected winners for the 2019 association awards from a very competitive application pool. Librarians and library project teams from academic, public, and special libraries across the commonwealth are honored for their exemplary contributions to their communities and profession in 2018. For more details about each winner and their accomplishments, please view the press releases linked below:

All Virginia Library Association award winners will be honored at the Scholarship & Awards Celebration on Wednesday evening, October 23, from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm at Hilton Norfolk The Main, in conjunction with the VLA Annual Conference. Tickets for the event are $55.00 and include your meal and support of the VLA Awards program. For more information about this event, see  

The Academic Innovator Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Alyssa Archer, Susan Van Patten, and Charley Cosmato of Radford University and Liz Bellamy of William & Mary have been chosen for the 2019 Academic Innovator Award. This award recognizes academic librarians or academic project teams who have made an outstanding contribution to advance the mission of an academic library in Virginia through an innovative project, program or service. This team was selected for their successful initiative to re-envision and renovate an information literacy center in Radford University’s McConnell Library through the Active Learning Center (ALC) Steelcase Grant program. With the $67,000 in grant funding, the team was able to transform a traditional classroom into a beautiful & flexible new space for collaboration.

Alyssa Archer is an Instruction Librarian at Radford University. A member of the Research Services department, she also conducts outreach to faculty. Her current research interests include using space to support student learning, metacognition and information literacy, and exploring pedagogies and practices that mesh well with students’ lived experiences. Liz Bellamy is an Instruction & Research Librarian, formerly at Radford University, now at William & Mary Libraries. Her research has largely focused on pedagogy in librarianship, with emphasis on critical information literacy, digital literacy, and student-centered instruction. Charles “Charley” Cosmato is the Director of Radford University’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning [CITL] where he leads a team of instructional designers, technologists, and new media developers. The CITL team leads the Radford University campus in brave exploration of learning science, instructional technology, instructional design, and innovative teaching methodology. Dr. Susan R. Van Patten is a professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism and former Director of Faculty Development at Radford University. Her research interests include sense of place, importance of play, evidence-based pedagogy, and recreation conflict. She was co-founder and executive editor of the Journal of Unconventional Parks, Tourism and Recreation Research (JUPTRR) and serves on the Foundation Board for the Virginia Recreation and Park Society.

The Donna G. Cote Librarian of the Year Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Jennifer Brown of Suffolk Public Library has been chosen for the 2019 Donna G. Cote Librarian of the Year Award. This award recognizes an exemplary achievement of a working Virginia librarian who demonstrates the value of libraries, enhances the image of librarians and/or libraries, promotes an accessible and positive climate in the library, advances community relations, or initiates a new library service or program. Jennifer Brown was chosen in part for her work on “SPL Mess Hall,” a summer lunch program in the library as part of the No Kid Hungry Initiative. She collaborated with churches and community organizations to ensure the success of the program.

Dr. Jennifer Brown is the Youth and Family Services Manager for Suffolk Public Libraries. She holds a BA and BS from Old Dominion University, MSLIS from Syracuse University, and a PhD in Instructional Design and Technology from Old Dominion University. She has worked toward providing meaningful experiences for program participants and ensuring all work completed in her department is done with intention. This work led to various accomplishments, including increasing program attendance by 43%, implementing a USDA Summer Food Program that fed over 1200 kids in 2018, and partnering with various city organizations to develop a Back to School Resource Fair. Additionally, Jennifer is a true data and design nerd at heart and advocates for developing programs and services from a community needs perspective to ensure services and programs are being developed in the most effective and efficient manner, ensuring positive outcomes, impact, and attendance. Her work with librarian and paraprofessional development is recognized nationally through her publications, conference presentations, and her committee and division work with the Association for Education, Communication, and Technology (AECT)’s School Media Technology division. Jennifer advocates for the role of public libraries by serving as the co-chair for the Thriving Families Working Group of Minus 9 to 5, a member of Old Dominion University (ODU) MLIS Advisory Board, and Adjunct Assistant Professor for ODU’s MLS program, among other city-wide board and committee appointments.

The Friends of the Library Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that the Friends of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Libraries have been chosen for the 2019 Friends of the Library Award. This award is presented to a Friends of the Library group in recognition of distinguished service to libraries in Virginia. This group was selected for their recent transformation into a society of committed donors focused on supporting the current and future needs of VCU Libraries. The Friends of VCU Libraries’ recent projects included introducing an endowed student scholarship fund, soliciting major gifts for the Cabell Library fund, and forming a partnership with the Division of Student Affairs’ Emerging Leaders Program to run the annual book sale.

VCU Libraries’ volunteer support organization, the Friends of VCU Libraries, is led by a 16-member board, which has restructured its work to heighten its effort on the libraries’ behalf. “Organizational change is challenging to manage, and this effort to focus the Friends where we need them the most is greatly appreciated,” says development director Kelly Gotschalk. “It will reap important long-range benefits in that our vital volunteers will be more engaged where their work matters most.” The Friends of VCU Libraries organization has supported a range of activities of the academic libraries on both the humanities and medical campuses since its founding in 1983. Recently, it completed an intentional and meaningful transformation that will benefit VCU Libraries far into the future.

The George Mason Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Brandy Laurel Stevens has been chosen for the 2019 George Mason Award. This award recognizes individuals, libraries, or other organizations distinguished for advocacy of  libraries and/or information access. Brandy was selected for her success in the growth and development of the Navy Library within the region by connecting military service men and women and their families to new ideas, experiences and information, and better assisting them with resources that involves navigating new frontiers, like cross-country moves, separating from the military, and embarking on new careers.

After graduating with a Master of Library Science degree from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Brandy’s professional roles over the past 10 years have included Reference Librarian, Corrections Librarian, and Branch Manager. She is presently serving as the Library Director for local Navy General libraries. Brandy’s career highlights include building confident, cohesive teams that are empowered to make customer-driven decisions, analyzing data to create and execute short and long term strategic plans, managing library renovation and design projects, creating, implementing, and evaluating a variety of library policies and procedures, and developing and strengthening partnerships to ensure the sustainable delivery of services.

The Public Innovator Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Central Rappahannock Regional Library Youth Services, under the leadership of Youth Services Coordinator Darcie Caswell, and in coordination with Tina Bialecki, Paragon Autism Services’ Director of Community Outreach and Education, has been chosen for the 2019 Public Innovator Award. This award recognizes public librarians or public library project teams who have made an outstanding contribution to advance the mission of a public library in Virginia through an innovative project, program or service during the nomination period. This partnership was selected for their joint planning and launch of Creative Minds, a class specially created for children with autism and other special needs at an elementary developmental level. Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s goal for Creative Minds was to create a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment where children with autism and other special needs are given the tools and support they need to learn at their own pace and in their own way. Adult caregivers stay in the room with the children, and family members are welcome, ensuring Creative Minds is an opportunity for class participants to meet and socialize in an enjoyable learning experience.

Darcie Caswell has been committed to the education of young people for over twenty years, first as a teacher and now as a librarian. As Youth Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library, Darcie leads a Youth Services team of twenty six enthusiastic, creative staff dedicated to providing educational opportunities across CRRL’s service area. Tina Bialecki has had the privilege of working with children with special needs in many capacities and settings for close to thirty years and is proud to serve the special needs community in her role as Paragon Autism Services’ Director of Community Outreach and Education. Paragon Autism Services is a well-respected, award winning ABA company in the Central and Northern part of Virginia which prides itself on its mission to “give back to the community.”

The Trustee Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Dr. Samuel Smart of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library Board of Trustees has been chosen for the 2019 Trustee Award. This award recognizes distinguished service to libraries or a library in Virginia. The Trustee honored may have served on the local, state, regional, or national level, or at a combination of levels. Dr. Smart was selected because of his consistent and tireless advocacy and support for the CRRL libraries during his long tenure on the Board of Trustees.

Dr. Samuel Smart dedicated 16 years of service to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (CRRL) Board of Trustees on two separate occasions. He first served 8 years during the late 1990’s and, most recently, from 2011-2019, holding the positions of both Chair and Vice Chair during each of his terms. Dr. Smart, a stalwart advocate for libraries, promoted the needs of CRRL both to the public and to local elected officials during his time on the Board tirelessly championing the library’s budget requests and advocating for staff raises, increases to the materials allocation, and the expansion of library services. A well-known optometrist for 47 years, Dr. Smart retired from practice in December 2018 and is enjoying retirement with his wife Laura.  

The Up and Comer Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Alison (Ali) McCue of the Augusta County Library has been chosen for the 2019 Up and Comer Award. This award recognizes an energetic librarian, with less than five years of professional experience, who pushes the boundaries of originality and creativity and expands the role of librarian with forward-thinking efforts that help move libraries into the future. Ali was chosen for this award because of her community outreach efforts, innovative programming, and desire to promote inclusivity both in the workplace and in her community.

Ali McCue is the Adult Services Programmer and Middlebrook Library Station Manager for the Augusta County Library. She earned her MLIS from Syracuse University and a BA in Religion Studies from Appalachian State University. Ali has worked on many successful projects and collaborations, including a Virginia Public Libraries Director’s Award-winning weekly radio reference show, quarterly trivia nights at local breweries, extremely popular American Sign Language classes, programming partnerships with local nonprofits, and securing the library on local public transit. Ali is currently excited about developing programming using the library's new 3D printer and virtual reality headsets. Ali lives in Staunton, VA with her fiancé and their cat.

The Outstanding Professional Associate Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Joy O’Toole of Central Rappahannock Regional Library has been chosen for the 2019 Outstanding Professional Associates Award. This award recognizes a library associate who fosters communication among library employees throughout the Commonwealth and advances and strengthens the image of Professional Associates. Joy was selected for her embodiment of the ideals of customer service, her ability to make connections with patrons and coworkers alike, and her enthusiasm and leadership. The committee was particularly impressed by Joy’s initiatives to connect and support local authors through the Inklings program, special events, and CRRL’s Writers Conference.

Joy O’Toole is an Adult Services Programmer at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, where she creates classes and events to enrich, educate, and connect people in the Fredericksburg area. Joy believes that learning and community are keys to enriching people’s lives and this belief colors every aspect of her job from helping someone find the perfect book  to teaching people how to operate a sewing machine, connecting authors to the local writing community, and aiding family history researchers. One of Joy’s greatest passions is to encourage local authors to grow in their craft and plug into the community of fellow-writers. To that end, she has built up the writers’ groups in the library, created system-wide events for National Novel Writing Month participants, and organized a local full day writers’ conference for all writers in the community. When MakerLabs and DIY grew into a national pastime, Joy saw an opportunity to include vintage skills with the new technology. She spearheaded an effort to train people on how to use a sewing machine, invited local fabric artists to demonstrate their crafts, and began quarterly cooking demonstrations to help people learn how to make bread, pies, and jam. Joy has been a member of VLA since 2018. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Virginia and is a lifelong learner.

The Professional Associates Forum Supporter of Professional Associates Award
The Awards & Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) is pleased to announce that Linda Schlekau of Fairfax County Public Library has been chosen for the 2019 Supporter of Professional Associates Award. The VLAPAF Supporter of the Year Award (formerly known as the VLAPAF Supporter of Paraprofessionals Award) was established in 1996 as a means of recognizing an individual who has provided significant support to their staff and who has been a champion for library support staff in Virginia libraries. Linda was chosen for this award because of her encouragement of staff to grow and develop themselves. Her mentorship and support of staff members as they seek advancement in the field greatly impressed committee members. 

Linda Schlekau has served in various library roles since working as a page/CETA worker for the Bedford Public Library.  After college graduation in 1977, Mrs. Schlekau told stories and did puppet shows as the children’s assistant in Bedford.  Her MLS specialty was in school media.  She was a middle school librarian for Landon School in Maryland, a university librarian in Guam, and then a school librarian in Havelock, North Carolina.  She began her career with Fairfax County in 1999 and is currently the Branch Manager for Sherwood Regional Library.  Linda hopes to spend her retirement RV traveling the countryside with her husband attending Food Festivals and Renaissance Faires.