The Coalition of Library Advocates (COLA) Annual Meeting, held on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, was its final meeting. After much study and thought, COLA’s Board of Directors, in close and careful consultation with RILA’s Board, asked for COLA to be fully absorbed into RILA rather than exist as a separate board with a chairperson. In this way, the efforts of library supporters will be part of RILA’s general actions. It was specifically noted that, with the efforts of the Legislative Action Committee, the work of COLA is continuing. All members of RILA continue to receive those updates, and now we can encourage anyone in the state who supports libraries to join RILA for a nominal fee.
The groundwork laid by people including Rosellen Reynolds, Tom Viall, Joan Ress Reeves, and many others will not be forgotten. The vote at the annual meeting was unanimous to dissolve the organization.
At this year’s final annual meeting, the following awards were presented: The William Bergeron Public Library Scholarship was presented to Christina Swiszcz. Christina has worked at the Newport County Campus Library of the Community College of Rhode Island for several years. Her primary role is managing the circulation desk, including hiring and managing the student employees. For Christina, making connections with students, helping them find materials and other campus resources, is incredibly rewarding. Besides being an outstanding student, Christina plans on continuing to serve the public as an academic librarian after graduating with her masters in library and information studies (MLIS).
The Linda Aldrich School Library Scholarship was presented to Elena Hughes. Elena has been dedicated to school libraries since she began at the University or Rhode Island's Graduate School of Library and Information Studies (GSLIS). She has been to Tanzania to build a rural school library, and next year she will be participating in the RILA mentoring program. One of Elena's goals is to collaborate with other school media specialists to develop and share best practices in school librarianship and how they are inherently primed for advocacy. Elena is interested in developing library curriculum that embeds social emotional learning, cultivating collections and resources that reflect the diverse needs and experiences of the community.
The Sweetheart of the Year Award was presented to Karen Mellor, Chief of Library Services, Office of RI Library and Information Services. As Rhode Island’s Chief of Library Services since 2013, Karen has long been a trusted advisor, ally, and collaborator of COLA as well as the library community. Since the pandemic, she has worked heroically to coordinate CARES Act grants for library expenses and support librarians in adapting to the year’s challenges with everything from policy development to the creation of virtual services.
The William E. Reeves Award for outstanding programming by a Library Friends Group was presented to the East Smithfield Public Library Friends Group for sponsoring the presentation about the Esmond Bunny blankets. Their event brought together library users and community members to hear from local historian Sandra Achille. Ms. Achille discussed the local history of the Esmond Mills, located in East Smithfield, RI, from 1906 to 1948. This event received news coverage in the Valley Breeze and was well attended for a cold January 2020 evening.
Those who attended also listened to a wonderful talk given by Frederick Reamer, a Pawtucket resident. Dr. Reamer (shown in photo) is a professor in the graduate program of the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. His research and teaching have addressed a wide range of issues, including mental health, health care, criminal justice, public welfare, and professional ethics. Dr. Reamer received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1978) and has served as a social worker in correctional and mental health settings. Dr. Reamer is also the host of This I Believe New England on The Public’s Radio, where he shares stories of New Englanders. The story he shared with us about the impact of a single book on his life was powerful. We thank him sincerely for the beautiful ending to a bittersweet meeting.
We thank everyone who came together and supported the decision to dissolve COLA in its current iteration. Thanks go to the remaining active board members who helped plan this meeting: Gale Eaton, John Bucci, Lisa Ashe, Karen Markin, and Emilie Benoit.
-- Submitted by 2020-2021 COLA Chair Robin Nyzio, MLIS; branch librarian at the William Hall Library