March 19, 2008

Library to award three honors at April 20 luncheon

The Racine Public Library Foundation has selected the first recipients of the Emily Lee Award, Distinguished Librarian Award and the Friend of the Library Award.

The award winners are author David Kherdian, librarian Nancy Elsmo and the Friends of the Library.

The recipients will be recognized at a special awards luncheon on Sunday, April 20, 1-3 p.m., at the Racine Marriott, 7111 Washington Ave. "We invite the public to show their appreciation for the years of good work done for the Library by these folks," says Andrew McLean, president of the Foundation.

The Library Foundation, established in 2006, raises money to support future Library needs. To keep the public informed of its work, and to celebrate those people and organizations that have supported the Library, the following awards have been established:

The Emily Lee Award is given to persons with Racine connections who have distinguished themselves in the world of literature. It is named after the wife of the first president of the Library Board who, in 1927, left the library $100,000.

David Kherdian, author and Racine native, is receiving the Emily Lee Award. It recognizes his distinguished career as a poet, novelist, children's author and biographer. Born in Racine and raised here during the 1930's and 1940's, Kherdian has frequently celebrated his life here in dozens of his books. Many of his major themes focus on the city of Racine and its history, and on the conflict he experienced between his parents' Armenian culture and his need to assimilate into American life.

The Road from Home is an account of Kherdian's mother, and her flight from Turkish genocide. In 1924 she arrived in America, married Melkon Kherdian and David was born seven years later. Kherdian has written over 50 books — poetry, memoirs, novels, biographies and children's books, some in collaboration with his Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and wife, Nonny Hogrogian.

His most recent book, Forgotten Bread, collects examples of 17 Armenian-American writers. They have, according to Kherdian, "a unique Armenian sensibility — a kind of naiveté, a sense of irony and laughter and bitter sweetness, and a love of nature."

There are about a dozen books in Kherdian's Root River Cycle that contain autobiographical remembrances of his boyhood. Collectively these poems are a poetic and literary tribute to the city of Racine, life in the Midwest, and to the places and people which molded this young writer.

Many of his books contain poems dedicated to friends, neighbors, streets, businesses, parks, and other Racine landmarks. These friends and places shaped his world view, and made him who he became: a poet of vision, a writer of place and memory.

The Distinguished Librarian Award is given to a librarian whose work has contributed significantly to the development and growth of library services in Racine. The first recipient of this award is Nancy Elsmo.

Nancy Elsmo started her career as a work-study Master's degree student in the Art Library at Syracuse University. Now, 53 years later, she has come full circle and works as a volunteer at the Art Library of the Racine Art Museum. Between these two positions, she has also spent time in a library career that she has treasured.

The Wisconsin Library Association in 1977 named Nancy Elsmo the Librarian of the Year, acknowledging her work then as director of children's services and as a pioneer in introducing innovations in the Racine library long before they were done elsewhere.

Nancy served the Racine Public Library in many leadership positions: Head of Technical Processes, Director of Children's Services, Head of Adult Services, and Acting City Librarian. She also has been active in many community organizations including Big Sisters, the Mental Health Association of the Racine County Board, Community Service Forum, Altrusa Club, the Racine Literacy Coalition and the Southeastern Wisconsin Literacy Alliance.

She is also a horticulturist, affiliated with the Herb Society of America, and worked part-time as a perennial plant specialist at a local garden center.

The Friend of the Library Award is given to a citizen, organization, or institution that has promoted the work of the Racine Public Library. The recipient of this first award is the Friends of the Library support group.

For several decades, the Friends of the Library have held annual book sales and raised many thousands of dollars to supplement Library programs and needs. In the last several years, for example, fall and spring book sales, an on-going book sale in the Library (opposite the Circulation desk), Monument Square summer sales, and membership dues, have raised over $12,000 annually.

The Friends are governed by a volunteer Board of Directors that meets monthly. They decide how to spend the money to benefit the Library's programming and staff needs and make funds available for new or innovative projects. Such projects include buying books for the Library's children's and young adult book clubs, supplying prizes for summer reading programs, purchasing materials for the annual Battle of the Books, and other projects that may not fall within the Library's normal budget.

The Friends annual meeting in the fall is combined with the Breakfast with the Authors to which the public is always invited. The Friends of the Library continues to be an important group that works to sustain quality Library services and programs. "The Friends group has been so supportive of Library staff and activities," says Jessica MacPhail, director of the Library, "Many of our cultural and educational programs would not happen without their support."

Susan Kowbel-Keller is the current President of the Friends which has a membership of nearly 300 people.

The public is invited to this first awards event. "It is a wonderful way to show support for your library," says McLean, "and it is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon in spring." Tickets for the luncheon on April 20 are $35 and may be purchased at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St. For more information, contact the library at 262.636.9170.

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