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Kansas City Public Library Branch Manager Wins Major Award, Weeps Justifiably

Kansas City Public Library

A Kansas City librarian has won one of the most coveted awards in her profession. 

April Roy, who manages the Kansas City Public Library's Lucile H. Bluford Branch at 30th and Prospect, was one of ten people from around the country who accepted the American Library Association's I Love My Librarian Award last Thursday in New York City.

More than 1,300 librarians were nominated for the award by library users this year, according to the ALA. The ten winners each received a $5,000 cash prize, a plaque, and a $500 travel stipend to attend the awards reception at the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Their libraries also receive plaques.

"This award’s a really big deal to librarians. When they announced the winners, I literally sat at my desk and wept," Roy said from New York after the ceremony last week.

"It’s still a little bit hard to believe," she said. "But it was so wonderful to meet the other nine winners and be inspired by them. It's such an honor to be in such esteemed company."

Roy noted that Kansas City, Kansas Library Director Carol Levers won the award in 2008.

"I know the wonderful work Carol’s done and have a lot of respect for her," Roy says, "so it's an honor to be put up in the ranks with her."

The award recognizes exceptional public, school, college, community college, and university librarians nationwide. Librarians are nominated by library users. Kansas City author Christine Taylor-Butler was the one who nominated Roy.

"Where I used to walk into a mostly unused space, the library now buzzes with activity," Taylor-Butler wrote in her nomination. "For adults and children, Bluford has become the place for homework help, job search assistance, refuge, or to find a passion for reading. She knows many of the visitors by name, and they've responded by putting out the word that Bluford is a place where people can feel welcome."

Credit Kansas City Public Library
Kansas City Public Library

Roy started working at the Plaza Branch when it opened in 2005, and became manager of the Bluford Branch in 2012. Changes at the Bluford Branch since then are dramatic, according to library statistics.

  • The number of adult programs on site has more than doubled, from 105 in 2012 to 316 in 2015
  •  Average attendance at adult programs rose from 18 in 2012 to nearly 30 this year.
  • Total patrons rose from 1,930 in 2013 to 9,247 this year.

Roy also pushed to add more computers. And, in partnership with Truman Medical Centers, the library added a health and wellness initiative that includes health fairs, chronic disease self-management workshops and twice-weekly fitness classes with a certified fitness instructor, says library spokeswoman Courtney Lewis.
"They had to cap the fitness classes at 65 people per class," says Lewis, "because at one point they had 100 people working out at each class in the community room and there was no room to move."

"My role at Bluford has been, first of all, just to get to know my community and figure out what their needs are," Roy said. "Coming from the Plaza Branch, I found that the Bluford folks have very different needs.  I think before I came, Bluford got written off sometimes as the little library where people didn’t check out so many books. But our issues are digital divide services and community meeting space."

As a result, Taylor-Butler noted in nominating Roy, the Bluford Branch has become a community hub.

Of particular interest to Taylor-Butler, who has written more than 70 children's books, is Roy's outreach to juveniles outside the library. Eleven events this year have drawn an average attendance of 420 kids, and the branch has distributed approximately 800 children's books each month at community events and festivals.

"She turned the Bluford library into an oasis," Taylor-Butler wrote in her nomination, "for a community that has little else to claim as its own."

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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