In a compelling entry supported by 20 passionate letters from the academic community of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (UNCG), and beyond—including deans, faculty, administrators, librarians, community leaders, and coworkers—Brown Biggers was overwhelmingly recommended for LJ’s 2016 Paralibrarian of the Year Award, sponsored by DEMCO. Among the highlights, nominators pointed to Biggers’s communication and teaching skills, technological expertise, commitment to service both at his job and in the larger Greensboro community, and genuine love for people.
A member of the UNCG Libraries IT Department, Biggers “tends to be behind the scenes and invisible to our users,” says nominator Tim Bucknall, assistant dean of university libraries and head of electronic resources and information technologies at UNCG, “but he has made a habit of making himself highly visible by finding new ways for all libraries to help their communities.”
An early adopter in the national Maker space movement, Biggers won a UNCG Libraries Innovation and Program Enrichment Grant to acquire and establish a place and program for the school’s first 3-D printer. He put this and other technologies to use for UNCG students and, as coauthor and primary investigator, won a federal grant to conduct training across North Carolina, giving librarians and paralibrarians the opportunity to explore and learn 3-D printing, Arduino, and related technologies.
“I worked on this grant with Elisabeth Filar Williams (now head of the Library Experience and Access Department at Oregon State University libraries), an absolutely brilliant, laser-focused librarian,” says Biggers. “People heard about 3-D printers but were afraid to touch one…. So with the grant we bought some 3-D printers and some circuitry, and we went to a number of places around the state, and Beth and I, along with our colleague Michelle Falkman, taught librarians about these Maker technologies. The objective was not to be in-depth but to demonstrate that it is OK to play, it is OK to fail, and it is OK to try things.”
Biggers also spearheaded the AcadeMAKE conference in Greensboro, which brought together some 100 faculty, K–12 teachers, and library school students, plus librarians from academic, public, and school settings. According to Bucknall, the statewide feedback on these initiatives and library/classroom partnerships was enthusiastically positive.
Driven by a strong commitment to literacy and education in both his work and personal life, adds Bucknall, Biggers volunteers widely, helping with reading assignments at a local elementary school, teaching the martial art Aikido to teens, and helping to bring art classes to low-income neighborhoods by working with the nonprofit Magic Art Bus, among other efforts. Biggers also spreads his tech know-how as a guest lecturer at UNCG’s Library and Information Studies Program and through workshops and webinars on tools for the campus community and beyond.
“I love teaching,” says Biggers. “I love being part of the learning process. I love being there at the point when that lightbulb goes off for someone. It is not completely altruistic; when they learn something they teach me, and I get to learn something, too.”
Unifier and integrator
Importantly, for this award and the profession, Biggers connects paralibrarians to the rest of the library and campus, according to Bucknall.
“Brown was appointed as the yearlong staff representative on our Administrative Advisory Group,” adds Rosann Bazirjian, dean of university libraries at UNCG. “This is a group of department heads and library administrators who meet monthly to discuss procedures and policies and share information. His role was to share the discussions that took place at these meetings with our paraprofessionals and to solicit their agenda items and issues for our meetings. There were some sensitive issues, [which] he handled with grace and professionalism [and that] contributed to staff understanding the reasons for certain actions. He is an excellent communicator, and it is that skill that effectively [delivered] information to our staff in a timely and professional manner. His ideas added to our [meetings] and brought clarity to many topics.”
Biggers’s work goes beyond the library as well. “Brown is so good at what he does, and well respected on campus, that he has not only been asked to serve on librarywide committees, but the chancellor of UNCG asked him to serve on the national search committee for a new provost,” adds Bazirgian. “He was involved and active and diligently shared updated search [details] with the entire library staff [and] also served on two additional search committees for librarians. He is an amazing employee…smart and well spoken and at the cutting edge of a new frontier for libraries.”
All the nominees for the 2016 Paralibrarian of the Year were impressive, but the following pair were outstanding:
JOANNE BECKERICH: Programming and Publicity Coordinator, Maplewood Memorial Library, NJ
KENNETH T. MANNS: Volunteer Services Director, Free Library of Philadelphia
The Paralibrarian of the Year Award is sponsored by DEMCO, Inc., of Madison, WI, which underwrites the $1,500 cash prize and a reception to honor the winner at the American Library Association annual conference in Orlando, FL, this June. The award recognizes the essential role of paralibrarians in providing excellent library service.
Passions at the fore
“No matter with whom he works, his enthusiasm and dedication to the principles of librarianship and lifelong education are infectious. As a leader, no job is too big for him to tackle head-on; it was his own idea and initiative that led to his successful grants and Maker space accomplishments,” Bucknall writes. “Whatever the challenge, Brown consistently goes above and beyond, helping librarians and paraprofessionals use technology to find new ways to engage their communities. More important, his commitment, competence, and creativity serve as a strong positive example to paralibrarians and librarians alike, both at UNCG and across our state.”
And, he’s modest, too. “I really have to thank my boss, Franklin Graves; my department head, Tim Bucknall; and my dean, Rosann Bazirjian,” Biggers says. “They have constructed a creative environment here. All three have been so invested in my personal development. They obviously see opportunity in an individual’s growth. They take our passions and put them in the forefront. That is what drives things here…. There are many, many people who are excellent at what they do because of that environment.”
“As a coworker, Brown has always provided outstanding technical support for me. Whenever I have run into a problem, needed updates, or researched a technology, he has provided quick and thorough help,” writes Vanessa Apple, the web applications specialist in electronic resources and information technology at UNCG Libraries. “A server development environment [he created] entails managing numerous virtualized development servers to aid me, fellow developers, or anyone in the department who needs one for testing a project. I have seen his interactions with other staff and patrons. He shows the utmost respect and takes time to answer any and all questions, making sure the person is comfortable with [his] solution. At all times he is ever watchful for ways to help. Whether it is looking for problems and fixing computers, asking a confused-looking patron if they need assistance, or picking up trash, not only in the library but across campus, Biggers radiates integrity and helpfulness to provide an environment that is conducive to learning…. He embodies what it means to be a paralibrarian professionally and personally.”
“Brown’s work has improved and expanded access to resources provided by libraries. In his primary job as a member of the UNCG Libraries IT department he plays a key role in developing and supporting library technologies,” says Biggers’s immediate boss, Franklin Graves, IT operations manager at UNCG Libraries. “He frequently uses his knowledge of technology and broad understanding of libraries to help both library patrons and professional librarians reach their goals.”
“Brown also has deep commitments to both innovation and education. He eagerly goes beyond the scope of his position to educate professional librarians and members of the community on new resources,” Graves adds. “Brown is a very talented educator, with the ability to make even highly complex topics understandable. He also enjoys learning new technologies and exploring new and innovative services that libraries can provide.”
In short, as Graves notes, “Brown Biggers exemplifies the qualities of excellence that all library workers, both paralibrarian and librarian, should strive to achieve.” The LJ editors agree.