Alma Public Library has received accolades twice this month, with a branch manager winning an award never before given to a librarian with the Crawford County Library System and receiving a $2,500 grant from The Walton Family Foundation.
Melanie Allen was presented the Lorrie Shuff Paraprofessional of the Year Award Oct. 7 in Hot Springs from the Arkansas Library Association. She is the only personnel with the CCLS to ever have been given the award.
Allen explained that a library paraprofessional is a librarian without a master’s degree in the field. One of the reasons Allen was recognized was because of her work assisting other paraprofessionals with the advancement of their careers.
Kim Hillison, director of the Garland County Library in Hot Springs, nominated Allen for the award. Hillison won the award herself in 2011.
"She’s an outstanding, dedicated leader; she loves what libraries stand for," Hillison said. "She wants to keep libraries growing and moving forward."
In 2006, Allen served as the secretary of the Arkansas Library Association Paraprofessional Division. She was soon convinced to become chair, a three-year commitment since she also had duties as chair-elect and post-chair.
As chair of the board, Allen helped write up the first policies and procedures manual for the division, and served on the by-laws committee.
She also worked with paraprofessionals in the nine different Arkansas Library Association regions to provide information on all areas new library services.
"In the three years that Allen was chair-elect, chair and post-chair, she brought a lot to the table on getting people involved and getting info out there," Hillison said.
Allen is passionate about her work with paraprofessionals and has tried to get the word out about a certification program that can help them advance and earn more within their library career.
Allen herself is participating in the certification program, and said after only a few classes she has learned a great deal.
"It changes your mindset on how to better serve your patrons," Allen said, adding that she has already learned how to better determine the material patrons are looking for.
Allen is proud to be recognized, but gives much of the credit to those she works with, including long-time CCLS director Eva White.
"I was just truly honored, but I couldn’t do what I did - the accomplishments I’ve done - without the support of my director Eva White and my coworkers," Allen said.
As an added bonus to having a branch manager recognized state-wide, APL was awarded a $2,500 grant from The Walton Family Foundation - a significant amount of money for the small library.
The money came as a surprise, Allen said, as the grant is awarded without an application from library staff. Arvest Bank personnel in Alma nominated APL for the grant, she said.
Friends of the Alma Library, who do much of the fundraising for the library, will receive the grant money and help determine its use at their next meeting, Allen said. It must be applied to maintenance or renovations, she said.
Some possibilities for how the money will be used are security lighting in the back of the library, and for renovations in the covered outdoor area called the "garden," Allen said.