iSchool Student Receives Inaugural Innovative Librarians Award


The San José State University School of Information and the Gwinnett County Public Library have chosen a Brooklyn-based iSchool student as the first recipient of the Innovative Librarians Award.

Eké Williams, a student in the iSchool’s Master of Library and Information Science degree program, submitted his life-changing project for the award and was selected from five finalists.

Williams formed his Documentary Photography Bootcamp project through collaboration with the Brooklyn Public Library and Brooklyn Information and Culture Arts, a Brooklyn-based media organization, to address “youth disconnection.” Williams said the term “youth disconnection” is defined as youth who are not enrolled in school or actively employed. The Social Science Research Council reported the East New York community has the second highest rate of youth disconnect in the city, with 25 percent of the community’s youth (ages 16-24) disconnected, he said.

“My goal was to create a resource that was fun, interesting, but most importantly, educational. The innovation was a photography class offered as a seven-week program designed to serve teens in the East New York community of Brooklyn,” Williams said.

Documentary Photography Bootcamp consisted of two groups: summer and fall cohorts. Each group had about 10 participants. Aside from providing these teens with professional cameras, editing software and new skills for fostering creativity, one major goal of this project was to ensure the youth developed a love for their community. Williams said this was done through community immersion where photographs were taken in the East New York neighborhood. 

“The young photographers took images of things around them. By immersing in their own community, they were able to see things they hadn’t noticed before, and developed an appreciation for their surroundings,” Williams explained. “The young people recognized that there are always opportunities to improve their neighborhood simply by interacting with their neighbors, local business owners, and conversing with their elders about the neighborhood’s history and how they can help make it better.”

The co-sponsorship between the iSchool and the Gwinnett County Public Library was formed to recognize students with innovative ideas to “improve and reshape” public libraries.

“They may be early in their careers, but they are already reshaping public libraries! I couldn’t be more pleased with the response to the call for submissions and the creative thinking happening in our field,” said iSchool Director Sandra Hirsh, adding, “It’s certainly rewarding for our school to not only partner with Gwinnett County Public Library on this initiative, but to also congratulate one of our own students as the award winner!”

Being selected for the first Innovative Librarians Award was “absolutely amazing,” said Williams. “For me, this achievement is monumental since I’m technically not a librarian yet, but still in training. I was filled with joy and truly uplifted when the news broke out. It is not often that you get a chance to share your story with others. The fact that I was able to tell my story and be rewarded on a national level is not only an honor, but similar to a picture as it is worth more than a thousand words,” he said.

The $1,000 prize will go toward school related expenses, such as textbooks and student loans, Williams said. He has been an employee at the Brooklyn Public Library for more than 12 years, starting as a part-time shelf organizer during his senior year of high school. He anticipates graduating with his Master of Library and Information Science degree in December 2018.

Nominations for the Innovative Librarians Award were blind-judged by public librarians and information science educators with years of frontline, managerial, and administrative experience. The award is open to all students who are enrolled and pursuing a graduate degree in library science, or have graduated with a master’s degree in the field within the past two years. For more information, visit the Innovative Librarians Award web page.  

To learn more about the Documentary Photograph Bootcamp, watch the promotional video.

Photo courtesy of GCPL Innovative Librarians Award web page.