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St. Louis County Library named Missouri's library of the year for community service

100622_Provided_ St Louis County Library_01.jpg
Kara Hayes Smith
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St. Louis County Library
The St. Louis County Library's GrandPad program allows older people to connect with friends and families. County library leaders say the program has been an essential tool during the pandemic.

The St. Louis County Library has been named Missouri Library of the Year by the Missouri Library Association.

The library, which includes 20 branches, won the honor for its community programming and its partnerships with organizations. Over the past two years, the county library offered coronavirus testing and COVID-19 vaccines, and provided older adults with tablets so they could connect with relatives and friends. It also has worked with Operation Food Search and the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank.

Partnerships with other organizations have been essential in helping the library tackle so many tasks, St. Louis County Library Director and CEO Kristen Sorth said.

“We're really meeting people where they are, and that is inside our branches,” Sorth said. “So we are able to kind of provide those wraparound services while people are also visiting the library for the more traditional library services.”

The recognition marks the second time in 10 years that the branch has been named library of the year. It also received the title in 2014.

Leaders of the county library and the St. Louis Public Library also won an award for their collaborations and creating a shared library catalog. Sorth said the library of the year award is a recognition of the work of librarians over the past couple of years.

“During the pandemic, the St. Louis County Library and our employees really stepped up to bridge some gaps that were very apparent in our community,” Sorth said. “Doing all of that work, while also checking out books and doing programs and all the things that libraries do as well.”

The county library was among three libraries in the state nominated for the award. The county library’s coronavirus outreach efforts provided a critical community resource, said Claudia Young, Missouri Library Association president.

“They responded to the call to help reach people where they're at,” Young said “Many libraries across the nation did similar things to help their communities during a very difficult time.”

The library shut its doors between March 2020 and March 2021 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The library laid off more than 120 part-time workers in August 2020 after the branch transitioned resources to curbside services. Sorth said earlier this year that she refilled those positions when the library resumed in-person services.

Sorth said the pandemic brought many challenges and prevented workers from interacting and making connections with regular visitors.

“We're about the people that come into our branches,” Sorth said. “For a while we didn't have people in our branches, and I think that was a challenge to continue to make those connections with people.”

The honor comes months after the library was among five other libraries to receive the National Medal for Museum and Library Service by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Sorth said the library is using the $10,000 award for raises for library workers.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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