November 24, 2015

Best Small Library in America Award Nomination Guidelines

Postmark deadline: September 8, 2016

Library Journal‘s annual award for the Best Small Library in America, cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was founded to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of these libraries. Now in its twelfth year, the award honors the U.S. public library that most profoundly demonstrates outstanding service to populations of 25,000 or less (see below for eligibility).

The winning library will receive a $20,000 cash award, a feature story in the February 1, 2016, Library Journal, membership and conference costs for two library representatives to attend the Public Library Association Biannual Conference in 2016, and a gala reception at the conference. Two finalist libraries will be awarded a $10,000 cash award as well as membership and conference costs for two library representatives to attend the PLA conference and the gala reception in 2016, and they will be given special mention in Library Journal.

A free webcast series presented by Library Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Providing exceptional library service on a small library budget and staff size presents special challenges, but also unique opportunities to meet core community needs. In this new webcast series, a combination of live and on-demand presentations funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, winners and runners up from a decade of LJ’s Best Small Libraries in America award, plus other rural and small library voices, will share hands-on, real-world tested expertise.

Moderated by Kristi Chadwick, Small Libraries Advisor to the Massachusetts Library System, registration is now open.

Members of the editorial board of Library Journal, librarians from around the country, and a representative from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will judge nominations based on key factors, including:

  • Creativity in developing services and programs that can be replicated by other libraries, including outreach to special populations
  • Innovation in introducing and supporting public access to computers and the Internet
  • Success in educating patrons in computer use, and measuring the results of technology usage
  • Use of technology to expand the reach of library services
  • Demonstrated community support
  • Sustained cooperation with other libraries
  • Partnerships with other agencies and businesses
  • Increase in library use, particularly by new users
  • Evidence of library’s role as community center

Keeping the factors above in mind, please tell us how, in the last two years, you have raised the profile of the library in your community, reached out to new users and remote users, and used technology to support and grow patron access to materials and information.

Please also describe patron use of computers in your library and how you anticipate sustaining public access to computers and the Internet at the library and adapting to the next generation of users. In your description of your collaborations with others, please give examples of how the library has become a model for the partnering organization and how the organization has become a model for the library. Please highlight innovative approaches to traditional problems, including seemingly small fixes that work. And, please highlight specific innovations that can be readily adopted by other libraries of all sizes.

Nominators are encouraged to reach out for guidance while developing nominations. Please do so by contacting Meredith Schwartz at

Submission Requirements:

Anyone can nominate a library—the library administration itself, patrons, members of the community, library peers, etc.

There is no entry fee, but each entry must include the following information:

1) Name, address, phone number, and email of nominee and the name of the contact person, as well as contact information for the submitter if different from the nominee.

2) A written explanation of up to two pages (or a list of bulleted narrative points) that clearly enumerates how the library’s accomplishments fit the criteria for the award listed above. (Note: Entries that describe programs and their effects on the community will be especially helpful to the judges in rendering a decision. Supporting materials, such as brochures, testimonials, press clippings, etc., may be included and are helpful, but they are less important than the written narrative.)

3) Photo(s) of library, staff, and patrons, if possible.

4) Letters of reference from two library peers. (A library peer is someone who is knowledgeable about libraries in general and knows the nominated library well, but who is not employed by the library in any capacity. Examples include librarians at neighboring libraries or colleagues at the state association or the state library.)

5) Library’s EIN.

6) Does your library have non-profit status?  If yes, please submit a copy of your tax status letter.

7) Statistical data. On a separate sheet of paper please supply the following information:

  • Population served
  • Total annual budget (if you are part of another body of government, note if you pay utility bills, IT, etc.)
  • Per capita budget
  • Circulation
  • Materials budget (including electronic databases)
  • Physical visits (door count)
  • Virtual visits (e-use, if collecting this data)
  • Number of public access computers per population served
  • Number of days and hours of service per week
  • Number of staff
  • Percentage of staff who are professional librarians.

Most libraries collect this data, but if you do not have all of these statistics, then submit those the library does have. Also, please detail whether the nominated library is a member of a consortium/county-wide service district—what services are provided by it (technology support, training, databases, etc.), what role does the library play in it? The judges do not make selections based on numbers, though they are helpful in giving context to the written submission.

Eligibility Requirements:

1) A single library serving a community with a population of 25,000 or less is eligible (latest Census).

2) Area library districts or systems may serve an aggregate population of greater than 25,000, as long as the service area of the library includes an area or a community with a population of 25,000 or less. The prize money must be used to benefit that population.

3) A single county or town with a population over 25,000 that is served by two or more library districts or systems operating entirely within the bounds of the county or town may qualify as long as the service area of a given library includes a rural area or a rural community or the population of the library’s jurisdiction is 25,000 or less. The prize money must be used for that area.

4) A single community with a population greater than 25,000 and having a library with one or more branches may qualify. The library must have a service area that includes a rural area or community that does not exceed a population of 25,000. The prize monies must be used only for the benefit of the rural or community population under 25,000. Similarly a single community with a population greater than 25,000, which also provide library service to an adjoining community of 25,000 or less population by contract, may also be eligible, provided the prize is used entirely to support the smaller community.

5) A single community library serving a population greater than 25,000 and not providing service to a rural area or to a rural community is not eligible for the award.

6) Previous winners are not eligible. Previous finalists are eligible to reapply three years after their finalist year (for example, a library honored as a finalist in the 2011 award year is eligible again for the 2014 award year).


As much as possible, please send submissions in an electronic format such as a Word document or a PDF directly via email to Meredith Schwartz at

Or mail nominations to:

Best Small Library in America Award
Library Journal
123 William St. Suite 802
New York, NY 10038

*Please note, Library Journal moved to a new office in mid-July, 2014. The new address above is correct. Our phone numbers and emails are the same.

If you have any questions regarding the submission process, please contact Meredith Schwartz at or by phone at 646.380.0745.