The City of Houston has a lot to be proud of, and one fellow city employee and Houstonian recently received a national honor that should make all other Houstonians feel even more proud.
Roosevelt Weeks Sr., who serves as the deputy director/chief of staff for the Houston Public Library (HPL), was one of ten librarians from across the country honored on November 30 with this year’s “I Love My Librarian Award,” which recognizes stellar librarians for their exceptional contributions to transforming lives and communities through education and lifelong learning. Winners were selected from nearly 1,100 nominations, and the 2016 “I Love My Librarian Award” recipients included three academic, four public, and three school librarians.
This year’s librarians join a distinguished group of award recipients who have been commended for their efforts to advance individual and community progress. Ninety librarians have received the national award since its inception in 2008. In the United States, 166,000 librarians continually work to meet the changing needs of library users and the communities they serve. Each winning librarian received a $5,000 prize, a $600 stipend to travel to New York and a plaque at the award ceremony and reception, hosted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which cosponsors the award with New York Public Library and The New York Times. The American Library Association (ALA) administers the award through its Public Awareness Office, which promotes the value of libraries and librarians.
Weeks manages many of the library’s extensive outreach programs, including relief efforts after natural disasters like hurricanes, sending its mobile library unit into affected communities to help people apply for assistance and file claims.
Weeks was extremely humbled by the honor, but gave the credit to his staff and community.
“This award is dedicated to all the hard working staff at the Houston Public Library and to the community we serve,” Weeks told the Forward Times. “This award would not be possible without them.”
Speaking at the awards ceremony was a representative from Dr. Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York; Tony Marx, president and CEO of the New York Public Library; Sari Feldman, past president of the American Library Association and chair of the I Love My Librarian Selection Committee; and Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association.
“The I Love My Librarian Award is an incredible opportunity to acknowledge librarians as experts and valuable resources, essential to the success of their libraries and communities,” said Todaro. “As highly educated professionals, librarians are providing library constituents with the tools and knowledge they need to grow and thrive in today’s changing information landscape. The fact that these nominations come from the people they serve gives us heartfelt testimony to the powerful impact librarians make every day through their work and commitment to their profession.”
Library users detailed how their favorite librarians working in public, school, college, community college, or university libraries helped to improve the quality of their lives by connecting them to information, opportunities, and critical technology.
Weeks was nominated by My’Tesha Tates, manager of HPL’s Community Engagement Team, who shared how he changed her overall outlook and perspective on libraries.
“When I first began with HPL, I had a very limited view of libraries,” said Tates. “I thought that they were only for access to books and websites. Mr. Weeks showed me that libraries are really here to link people to the world, and they do that in so many ways, not just in print. I’ve been inspired to view libraries differently, as a source of access and assistance, with information delivered in a variety of ways, and now I have internalized this vision, so that I can promote and share it, and be a true advocate for libraries!”
Weeks is known by many individuals as a humble man, but many do not know that he came from very humble beginnings. As a little boy, growing up in Idianola, Mississippi, Weeks picked cotton, but was always a dreamer.
In his acceptance speech, Weeks opened with the statement, “who would have thought a little Black boy from the cotton fields of Mississippi would receive such an award as this.”
Community involvement is very important to Roosevelt Weeks. Since becoming Deputy Director of the Houston Public Library, he has partnered with local organizations to spread literacy and the love of reading throughout Houston. His work with the Houston Center for Literacy and the Eastside Village Learning Center helps residents of lower income areas of the city to gain the skills they need to improve their lives. He uses his time with both of these organizations to advocate for literacy. Weeks is a deacon at Holman Street Baptist Church, where he teaches Sunday School. He also mentors youth, volunteers at KIPP Academy, a prominent Houston charter school, and at various Houston area schools, as part of the Real Men Read program. When he first arrived at HPL, it was to serve as the Chief Technology Officer and head of our IT department, but he soon moved up to Deputy Director of Administration and Chief of Staff. During his time as CTO, HPL launched an integrated set of computer tools that allowed library patrons to access and edit their files from any computer connected to the internet, something ahead of its time for those who did not have a computer at home, especially in the days before Google Drive and Dropbox. His passion for the library was so great that even after becoming Deputy Director, he chose to go back to school and earn his MLIS, all while administering the seventh largest public library system in the country and parenting six kids.
Through his tenure as Deputy Director, Weeks changed the Houston Public Library for the better. Any resident of Houston can now use the library to prepare to become a citizen, get their passport, or hold a wedding or special event. He has cultivated both traditional partnerships, such as HPL’s partnership with the Houston Independent School District, and non-traditional, such as HPL’s relationship with HEB – a Texas grocery chain. Weeks has targeted underserved areas of the Houston community, such as irregular users and especially low-to-moderate income residents. He is very passionate about bringing libraries and library services to people where they are, such as the HPL Express project, which placed libraries inside pre-existing buildings, such as office buildings, multi-service centers, and parks, and also features a mobile technology lab to better bring classes and services to where people are. During Hurricane Ike, the last major hurricane to hit the city of Houston, Weeks spearheaded the library’s effort to provide relief to the most affected areas, by sending out the Mobile Express to help people fill out FEMA and other government assistance forms, as well as working hard to reopen closed libraries as soon as possible to provide access to power, communications, and air conditioning in stricken neighborhoods. During this time, to ease the burden on library employees and allow them to return to work confident that their children would be okay, Weeks worked together with other key staff members to turn the Central Library’s Children’s and Teen Rooms into a daycare for employees’ children, with Children’s and Teen Room staff providing fun activities for everyone. This very successful project was soon expanded to accommodate all City employees. During the devastating floods in April of this year, Weeks reached out to one of the local schools which had been turned into a shelter, and provided resources and staff to help displaced residents apply for assistance and file claims, as well as facilitate fun activities for the kids. During this time, HPL wasn’t the only City department looking for innovative ways to help the community recover, and as someone who is always looking for unique solutions to problems, he suggested that HPL partner with the Public Works and Engineering department to take the library’s Mobile Express into damaged neighborhoods to provide on-the-spot service for contractors needing to acquire permits for repairs. The Community Engagement Team is the brainchild of Weeks, and a new way of providing library services to the folks that need it the most. They take library services into the community and reach out to people where they live, work, and play to give them access to technology, provide school support and workforce development, and literacy services. With his support, in HPL’s Fiscal Year 2016, they served over 43,000 people at 950 events, and issued over 2,100 library cards, using the Mobile Express mobile technology lab, two mini-labs, and a variety of technology and other resources.
The other winners of the “I Love My Librarian Award” were:
Danielle S. Apfelbaum, librarian II, New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), Old Westbury, New York; Andrea Bernard, library director, Tyler Memorial Library, Charlemont, Massachusetts; Olga Valencia Cardenas, youth services outreach librarian, Stanislaus County Library, Modesto, California; Elissa Checov, manager of library services, Gwinnett Technical College/Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, Georgia; Kathryn Cole, school librarian, Northside Elementary School, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Tabatha “Tabby” Farney, director of web services and emerging technologies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS); Sherri Ginsberg, head librarian, Hillsides Library, Pasadena, California; Lia Kharis Hillman, fourth-floor programming manager, San Francisco Public Library (SFPL); and Jamille Rogers, media specialist, Marguerite Vann Elementary School, Conway, Arkansas.
Please join the Forward Times in congratulating Houston’s own Roosevelt Weeks Sr., deputy director/chief of staff, Houston Public Library (HPL), for receiving this prestigious and well deserved national recognition as a stellar representative for the city of Houston.