Librarian receives statewide award

Published 10:54 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Jennifer Brown of the Suffolk Public Library was recognized as an outstanding librarian statewide.

In July, the Awards and Recognition Committee of the Virginia Library Association chose Brown for the 2019 Donna G. Cote Librarian of the Year Award.

This award recognizes a Virginia librarian’s “exemplary achievement,” according to the press release. A librarian who demonstrates the value of libraries, improves the image of libraries, promotes accessibility and positive in their library, builds community relationships and initiates a new library service or program.

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Brown is the Suffolk Public Library’s youth and family services manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science from Old Dominion University, where she also earned her doctorate degree in instructional design and technology.

On top of all that, she has a Master of Library and Information Science from Syracuse University in New York.

Brown has been with Suffolk Public Library for roughly three and a half years. She said she initially wanted to be an academic librarian because she loves research, but when she landed a public library job, she immediately understood the appeal of being part of a larger library community.

“You’re really serving a larger community, and I immediately fell in love with it,” she said.

According to the press release, Brown was chosen for this award partly for her work on “SPL Mess Hall,” a USDA summer food program. The goal of Mess Hall is to provide meals for children that may not be getting enough to eat during the summer, Brown said.

“We were seeing a lot of kids that were hanging around the library from morning to close without eating anything,” she said, “so we began exploring opportunities to feed the kids that we saw in the library during the summer, so they would at least have a meal while they were in the library.”

The library partnered with Suffolk Parks and Recreation for Mess Hall over an eight-week period last year, during which they served more than 1,200 hungry kids, Brown said. The program was held again this summer, as well.

“We got to know them by name, their interests and better ways to serve them,” she said about these kids.

“We’re just trying to give them a safe space during the summer.”

Brown was also among 13 recognized in the 2019 No Kid Hungry Summer Hero Hall of Fame for her work with the feeding program.

She’s credited in the press release as being a “true data and design nerd” — which is why she first was drawn to academic research. She brought her skillset to Suffolk Public Library and continues to make an impact with those skills.

By working with community partners, conducting surveys and simply talking to people at the different Suffolk library branches, Brown collects data that makes for better library programs.

“I think that process — strategically using that information to thoughtfully build programs and services — has really allowed us to be successful,” she said.

Her leadership increased programming attendance by 43 percent, but she said she shares that achievement with the rest of her team.

“It was really my staff. They come in and they have all these great ideas. I just made it to where they had the ability to provide these programs,” she said. “(We) figured out what people wanted, we gave it to them and we were able to increase program attendance by 43 percent overall.”

Brown’s favorite thing about being a librarian in Suffolk is seeing how these programs and services impact the community, by building relationships among people with common interests and providing access to technology, information and different programs and services — even summer meals.

“I think the library plays a really strong role in providing access to its community, and I love it,” she said.