University of Houston Libraries honored its top performers at an online awards ceremony this week. The Library Excellence Awards, now in its 21st year, recognizes the contributions of librarians and staff who go above and beyond. Dean of Libraries and Elizabeth D. Rockwell chair Athena Jackson commended the dedication of those who persevered during the challenges of the past year, prioritizing each other’s safety and wellbeing, and showing empathy, creativity, and agility in sustaining Libraries services.
The Student Achievement awards were presented to Jordan Kulzer and Gabrielle McCullough. Kulzer showed exceptional commitment to completing necessary tasks in shipping and receiving and ensuring that operations continued to run smoothly during the pandemic while demonstrating superior leadership and ability to work resourcefully. McCullough is a self-starter who exudes a passion for working collaboratively with all team members and providing exceptional support to patrons, and a tireless focus on enriching research services for all library users.
This year’s McGovern Outstanding Student award recipient is De’Jah Hopkins, whose hard work and positive attitude has made a strong impression on colleagues throughout the Libraries. Arriving with new insights and the work ethic to bring ideas to fruition, Hopkins’ creative skills were instrumental in planning, providing input, and developing the department’s first inventory management system.
The McGovern Staff Rookie of the Year is Brooks Whitaker, whose work is described as thoughtful and thorough, and who has been a steadying presence in the department. Whitaker’s extensive knowledge of archival standards and best practices, and critical consideration of questions on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) have provided key insight to the department’s goal of working towards anti-racist, inclusive archival description in finding aid inventories.
Carolina Hernandez is the McGovern Librarian Rookie of the Year. Hernandez has hit the ground running since joining the Libraries in 2019. Known as a hard-working and responsible colleague who is a joy to work with, Hernandez has been an integral part of the instruction team’s success in developing online learning objects, necessary documentation, and most importantly, meeting the educational needs of UH students. Hernandez has also been involved in the UH community as a mentor through the Las Comadres mentoring program. An active scholar and practitioner, Hernandez implemented a program called Teaching Squares which allows groups of instruction librarians to observe one another for improvement in teaching.
This year’s Outstanding Group is Information and Access Services (IAS) who has reached levels far above outstanding when confronted with the unimaginable. IAS enabled the Libraries to continue to function in support of the University and established best practices in the wake of the pandemic. In response to calls to reopen the library, IAS set entry protocols, health and safety guidelines, and access and service processes to support the teaching, learning, and research mission of the Libraries and the University. IAS guided users through new services as they were implemented, extended flexibility, and delivered not only great service but relief to so many students and researchers as they continued work through their own difficulties. IAS led the Libraries in implementing policies and procedures during the change from in-person service to remote/hybrid service and created new processes for services like circulation of print materials in a safe manner, offering curbside delivery, mail delivery and scanning services.
Marilyn Myers is this year’s Trailblazer Award for Leading Organization Change recipient. Myers became interim dean only a few weeks before being put into the unprecedented position of leading the Libraries through a pandemic, which included moving staff at all levels to remote work, managing logistical challenges, and responding to university priorities, while keeping the Libraries’ mission and values at the forefront. Myers continued innovations to establish the Libraries as a research facility and ensured the ongoing informational needs of students and faculty were met.
This year’s recipient of the Dean Dana C. Rooks and Dr. Charles W. Rooks Diversity Award is Veronica Arellano Douglas, who was the 2019 – 2020 chair of the Libraries’ Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CODI). Douglas led CODI in an effort to develop a comprehensive learning plan on (EDI), and regularly writes and presents on EDI topics in instruction and librarianship.
Susan Ryan won the Staff Achievement award. Ryan is a great resource and a great person who continually goes the extra mile, and then goes even further to make things better. Ryan is very energetic, a dependable member of the department, and gets along well with others. During the pandemic, Ryan was one of the first staff members to return to work and offer assistance where needed.
Salima Bowaniya also won the Staff Achievement award. Known for being patient and adaptable, Bowaniya volunteered early on to help other departments with work that had become time-consuming as a result of being remote. Bowaniya learned multiple assignments and demonstrated both a keen willingness to learn and also a wonderful spirit of comradery.
This year’s McGovern Outstanding Staff Award recipient is Michael Caldwell, who is not only extremely effective at the job, but is also always dependable, patient, and generous. Caldwell established processes and streamlined day-to-day operations in the essential role of shipping and receiving, mitigating mail delivery challenges associated with the pandemic and ensuring that adequate personal protective equipment were delivered to all departments as needed.
This year’s first recipient of the Librarian Achievement Award is Emily Vinson, who has shown true initiative and exceptional efforts over the past year. Vinson instituted and organized a productive remote-work program that kept 28 students throughout multiple departments employed while safely working and studying at home. Vinson also built a strong audiovisual archive and service program, leading the growth of the AV Repository and engaging donors, researchers, students, and filmmakers.
The next recipient of the Librarian Achievement Award is Ian Knabe, known for service and leadership during a time when the department experienced numerous challenges. Knabe worked diligently to embrace a leadership role with limited personnel, providing insight, guidance, and troubleshooting. Knabe showed in-depth familiarity with colleagues’ abilities and strengths, allowing them to focus on priorities and empowering each member to produce their best work.
Lee Hilyer is the McGovern Outstanding Librarian who demonstrated exceptional leadership in the Libraries’ transition to remote services. Hilyer embodies what the Libraries aims to do – contribute to student success and the research activity of the University. Hilyer’s accomplishment in leading the team to support the education and research mission of the Libraries and the University while acknowledging and addressing the health, safety, and logistical challenges posed over the last year has been extraordinary.
The 2021 Library Excellence Awards committee members are Tim McGittigan, Ian Knabe, Annie Wu, Rachel Helbing, Melinda Colmenero, Mea Warren, Christina Gola (ex officio), and Mark Cooper (ex officio).