Librarian with early-stage dementia wins national award for facing adversity with integrity

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As director of the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, Janet Eldred has overseen major projects like building renovation and smaller daily tasks like working tirelessly with her team, lugging books, and sitting cheerfully at library booths through rainy festivals.

But the challenge she now faces with remarkable dignity and grace is a medical one.

In 2012, Eldred was diagnosed with early-stage dementia. Since then, she has not only experienced increasingly impaired cognitive function, but she has also developed neurological complications, including occasional seizures and bouts of syncope (loss of consciousness).

In 2019, in a speech for which she received a standing ovation (but does not recall giving), she observed: “You’ve often heard it said: No one is promised tomorrow. Life is fragile. I have learned that applies to the past as well. No one is promised yesterday, either. The one thing you can grasp is the moment. This is the moment you can choose what to do and who to be. The future and the past will take care of themselves.”

Her colleagues and patrons recognize her for her tireless work in the Hollidaysburg Public Library and community at large and celebrate her energy, zeal, cheerful kindness, inspiring selfless directorship, and for her determination to continue serving her community despite the immense complications of her medical condition.

Her goal – a “moonshot” – is to raise $1 million for her library, and the $10,000 prize associated with the Lemony Snicket Prize for Nobel Librarians Faced With Adversity, which she was awarded in April 2021, will go toward that.

In accepting the prize in June, Eldred said, “Early-stage dementia was a bad beginning, but my husband and I saw room, no, a wide window to turn a miserable decline into a kind of elevator. With the help of a village, my staff and board of directors and, with sticky notes, I remain grimly determined to serve my library as long as I can. Sometimes I think I’ve reached my ultimate day, so it’s thrilling to receive this award before the end.”

Read more stories about amazing librarians.

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