R.D. & Euzelle Smith Middle School
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Students at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill have taken ownership of the library, which is exactly what librarian Gabriel Graña aims for to keep literacy and the library as the school’s focal point. Minority students make up more than half the student population, with many receiving free or reduced lunch benefits; Graña works to ensure the library has books that reflect their experiences and gives them the tools they need to grow as individuals, improve their skills, and express themselves with technology and opportunities. To accomplish this, he works to help school staff understand the library’s critical role in equalizing the educational playing field for all students.
Graña emphasizes that the library is the students’ space, and the students have commanded that ownership to the library’s benefit. To improve students’ discoverability among the library’s collection, Graña recataloged it by genre—a seismic project completed over the summer, with students and parents jumping at the opportunity to help. Students provide input on book displays and programs, suggest books for purchase, and set individualized reading goals. And the library’s makerspace, which has grown over the years with grant funding to include two 3D printers, a Cricut cutting machine, and a music keyboard, gives all students an outlet to express themselves and engage with technology to develop new skills.
“Instead of saying, ‘I’m just the librarian, that’s all that I do,’” one nominator wrote, “Gabriel says, ‘I am the librarian, what else can I do?’”
Gabriel was selected from nearly 1,400 nominations from library users nationwide for the 2024 award. As part of his award, he will receive a $5,000 cash prize as well as complimentary registration and a travel stipend to attend ALA's LibLearnX event in Baltimore.
The I Love My Librarian Award is sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, with additional support from the New York Public Library, and is administered by the American Library Association. Since 2008, library users have shared more than 24,000 nominations detailing how librarians have gone above and beyond to promote literacy, expand access to technology, and support diversity and inclusion in their communities.