SJSU Alumna Wins ALA’s I Love My Librarian Award for Outstanding Contributions to Public Librarianship
Congratulations to Maria Papanastassiou!

Maria Papanastassiou

San José State University alumna Maria Papanastassiou, who completed her Master of Library and Information Science degree in 2013, is the latest SJSU Spartan to win the I Love My Librarian Award, conferred annually by the American Library Association. The Kids’ World Assistant Manager at Arlington Heights (Ill.) Memorial Library, Papanastassiou was one of 10 winners announced on December 10, 2019, which included three academic, three public, and four school librarians.

“As a public librarian, one of my favorite elements of librarianship is the opportunity to extend impact beyond one’s own community via the types of professional networking and shared learning that librarianship affords,” she said. 

Recognized for her effective transformation of Arlington Heights Memorial Library into a welcoming community hub for children with special needs and their families, Papanastassiou developed “Our Time: Caregivers, Coffee, and Play,” a program aimed at helping parents and caregivers connect with developmental therapists in an informal setting, and instituted “Early Open for Families,” so that children with special needs could experience exhibits in an intimate, quiet setting before the library opens its doors to the general public.

“I am fortunate to be a part of SNAILS (Special Needs and Inclusive Library Services), a local networking group of librarians and other library professionals serving youth where we are able to share ideas, increase awareness, advocate, encourage each other, and learn together how we can best provide accessible services to all of our families,” said Papanastassiou.

Papanastassiou’s efforts are also impacting collection development for children with special needs at her library. “My community partner, C.I.T.Y. of Support, is donating $10,000 to the Arlington Heights Memorial Library to support the creation of a youth accessibility collection over the next year,” she said. C.I.T.Y. (Children in Therapy and You) of Support, provides playgroups for children with down syndrome, cerebral palsy, sensory processing disorder, and language delays. 

“I feel proud that our collaboration to tackle advocacy, awareness, accessibility, and inclusion together is resulting in a specialized collection that will positively impact families, schools, and therapists alike,” she said. 

The partnership with C.I.T.Y. of Support established a framework for future community collaborations with the library, and was highlighted in the award nominations. “Maria’s inclusive and warm nature helps these somewhat isolated families feel more confident in their ability to participate in and enjoy library programs,” wrote Beth Deiter, founder of C.I.T.Y. of Support, in her nomination of Papanastassiou.

“I think one of the most exciting aspects of winning the award is that I hope it encourages other librarians to look to their communities to create problem-solving partnerships.  It can benefit your community and library in the most unexpected ways!” Papanastassiou exclaimed.

Since 2008, library supporters have submitted more than 19,000 nominations describing how librarians have gone above and beyond to connect patrons to information, educational opportunities, and critical technology.

ALA received 1,974 nominations for this year’s award, detailing the incredible achievements of librarians across the country and highlighting the indispensable role librarians play within their communities, schools, and campuses.

“I was pretty shocked when I learned I won the award; it still feels unreal!” said Papanastassiou.  “I have always found it very inspiring to read the bios of other librarian award winners and am continuously in awe of their tremendous contributions to the profession and to their communities. I feel so humbled and honored to join the ranks of others in the profession who strive to exceed expectations when serving their students, patrons, and communities.”

Award winners will each receive a $5,000 cash prize, a plaque, and a travel stipend to attend the I Love My Librarian Award ceremony during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Philadelphia on January 25.

Carnegie Corporation of New York sponsors the I Love My Librarian Award; New York Public Library and The New York Times are cosponsors. ALA administers the award through its Communications and Marketing Office, which promotes the value of libraries and librarians. Information regarding previous award winners can be found on the I Love My Librarian website.