Meribah Mansfield never considered herself a celebrity. And even though the Director of Worthington Libraries in Worthington, Ohio, is often stopped on the street and congratulated, she credits her libraries' recent winning of the Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award not to her, but to her staff's commitment to the community they serve.
"Winning this award has become such a source of pride for our community, which has always supported the Library. Everyone is just thrilled to have the national spotlight on Worthington," Mansfield said.
The Library of the Year Award honors the library that most profoundly demonstrates outstanding community service. Worthington Libraries were honored at a special ceremony on June 25, during the annual American Library Association conference in Washington, D.C. The award includes a $10,000 cash prize.
Mansfield says the library system's win was due to several factors that make Worthington Libraries stand out among other libraries:
Funding: In addition to the funding the Worthington Libraries receive from the state through the Library and Local Government Support Fund, residents of the Worthington School District voted to support a 2.6 mill property tax for the Library in 2005. This is in addition to the 2.2 mill levy passed by residents in 1992.
"Gold Standard" library planning: Worthington Libraries continually meet "Gold Standard" library planning, which is defined as 20% of a library's annual budget spent on materials. Since 1979, Worthington Libraries has spent an average of 22.6% of its annual budget on library materials.
Programs and outreach activities: Worthington Libraries attract large numbers of people to the Library. In 2006, the library staff planned more than 1,200 programs that were attended by nearly 43,000 people.
Innovation: Worthington Libraries has a reputation for developing innovative partnerships and introducing the right services at the right time. Northwest Library is a prime example: after opening in 1996, it is operated in cooperation with the Columbus Metropolitan Library. As such, it is one of only two libraries in the entire country to be jointly operated by two independent library systems.
As library director, Mansfield led the team that submitted the Library of the Year application. While she says that winning the award validates the work she has done – and loved – for more than 35 years, winning the award was not the ultimate goal.
"I've always focused on building a library system to serve this community," she said. "For me, the best thing about winning the Library of the Year Award was surprising the community and sharing the excitement with our patrons."
Mansfield said Worthington Libraries work hard to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the community. She takes phone calls from anyone who wants to discuss library-related issues or concerns, and she personally responds to every piece of public correspondence the library receives.
The library system never undertakes major projects without first testing their ideas with the community. For example, during the libraries' last strategic planning process, they interviewed 100 community members and formed a community strategic planning group to guide the project through to completion.
"We listen to the community and respond to their needs," Mansfield said.
Mansfield isn't sure how Worthington Libraries will spend the $10,000 prize, but she does know it will be put back into serving the community.
"Our community holds us to very high standards and expects us to be accountable for every dollar we spend," Mansfield said. "I feel a heightened sense of responsibility after winning the Library of the Year Award. Given the high level of financial support residents provide us through two property tax levies and their state income tax, I feel a tremendous obligation to not only meet but surpass their expectations. Everything we do, from the materials we select, to the programs we plan and the resources we provide, is done with the community in mind."
Salt Lake City Public Library, 2006 Library of the Year winner, feels similarly.
"Salt Lake City citizens have always held us in high regard," said Colleen McLaughlin, Community Affairs Manager. "The award reinforced their view and showed the community that our reputation extends beyond Salt Lake City. Winning Library of the Year certainly motivates us to strive for excellence."
"The bar has definitely been raised, and we will have to continue to excel and surpass even our own expectations to maintain our reputation as one of the best libraries in the country," Mansfield said.