While many libraries have come up with creative rewards for staff innovation, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) Innovative Cool Awards do double duty. The monthly award, funded and run by BPL’s ten-member Board of Trustees, is an incentive for staff to develop—and promote—engaging new programs and workshops, and also a way to connect the board with staff.
The awards, launched in April, grant each branch up to two $50 stipends per year to help improve an existing program or develop a new, innovative, “cool” program (because of its size, each department of the Central Library is eligible for two awards). Branch managers are asked to submit a paragraph or two describing the programs and how the funds would be used, no later than the 15th of each month, which are then reviewed by the board’s Advocacy Committee and submitted to the board for final approval. Two awards will be announced each month through the end of the year, at which time the board will review the program and decide whether to extend it into 2017.
Putting the Board Fund to work
Since 2009 board members have donated to the Board Fund, “used at the trustees’ discretion to do things for the library that would help encourage employees and staff morale,” said Dora Sims, chair of the BPL Board Advocacy Committee. Currently the annual suggested pledge is $100, along with another $10 to support the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Foundation. In the past the fund has financed initiatives such as Patron Appreciation Day, which brought in lunchtime cake for the customers at each of BPL’s 19 branches and the Central Library, and a staff-nominated award of $25, given each quarter to a librarian who demonstrated extra creativity.
But the Advocacy Committee wanted to develop a longer-term distinction that would both reward and inspire staff members, and that would go toward the programming itself. Committee member Gwendolyn Amamoo came up with the idea for the Innovative Cool Awards, which was enthusiastically received and unanimously approved by the board.
“We thought that [this]…would encourage our staff to go a little bit beyond the call of duty and come up with some initiative, whether it was new or old, to make [a program] a little more innovative and to reach out to their patrons,” explained Sims.
Innovative and Cool
The first recipient, in May, was the Pratt City Branch Library’s Career Survival Kit Program. The program provides career tips to teenagers and brings in speakers to address issues such as how to conduct a job search, proper presentation (“The Importance of the Handshake” is a featured topic), the importance of first impressions, appropriate dress and workplace conversation, and how to be a leader on the job, as well as providing examples of mock interviews.
The latest round of awards was announced at the board’s August 9 meeting. The first, “Recovering the Classics,” was submitted by Laura Gentry, a librarian in the Central Library’s Linn-Henley Research Library Southern History Department. The project, which will begin in September, asks adults and young adults to create new book covers for classic books. The winning designs will be exhibited on the Central Library’s first floor. The second, “Make Your Own Halloween Mask Party,” submitted by library assistant III Claire Stanton from the Eastwood Branch Library, will rally local children come October.
“It’s been a great thing, and it’s really boosted patrons’ morale as well as staff morale,” said Sims. “So it’s done what we set out to do.”
Appreciation from the board
With close to $3,000 remaining in its fund, the board anticipates awarding up to $1,900 before the end of the year. Nominations are rolling in from across the BPL system, said Sims, with six entries in May, three in July, and four in August. “We’ve had some great ideas that come up,” she told LJ. “Staff members are really jumping on board.”
The awards, Sims noted, let the staff know that the trustees are aware and appreciative of their efforts. Although many libraries finance incentive awards through their foundations, she said, part of the appeal of BPL’s Innovative Cool Awards is that they’re completely board-funded.
“They show [staff] that the trustees are not necessarily people that sit on a board somewhere [but] are not interested in seeing what is happening to the patrons,” she said. “Oftentimes trustees are there to look at the legal aspects [of running the library], but don’t…come into contact with the people that they serve.”
With the Innovative Cool Awards, “the trustees are the ones letting the staff know how much we appreciate and value them,” added Sims. “That’s the beauty of what we’re doing.”