The Illinois Library Association (ILA) Youth Services Forum has awarded Children's Librarian Shelley Harris with the 2021 Golden Ticket Award for her "outstanding local contribution" to young people through programs that "promote a love of literature and instill positive feelings about libraries."
Shelley's "creativity, incredible work ethic, and commitment to serving young patrons and their caregivers made her an ideal candidate, says Manager of Children's Services Jennifer Norborg.
"I am really delighted and really proud to win this award," Shelley says. "It means a great deal to have my work recognized not only by Jennifer, who is an incredible support, but also by librarian peers at ILA."
An 'early childhood hero' & advocate for disabled kids
In her work, Shelley aims to make sure that all kids can see themselves represented.
For example, she made sure that our circulating American Girl Doll collection helps normalize disabilities. That means some dolls have devices such as hearing aids, insulin pumps, arm crutches and wheelchairs, and alternative communication devices.
"Shelley excels in her commitment to providing programming and library services to patrons with disabilities," Norborg says. "She has been a leader in this capacity among both librarians and early childhood special education teachers nationwide and worldwide."
And this spring, the local Collaboration for Early Childhood recognized Shelley as an Early Childhood Hero "for bringing hope, opportunity, and joy to our community's 0-5 little ones."
'A place where every child is not only welcome, but wanted'
One major project that Shelley spearheaded is our Community Sensory Garden, at the Maze Branch Library. The goal was to create an outdoor space that is intergenerational, intentional, and accessible for all.
"My younger brother is significantly disabled, as are his friends, and all of us families know the challenges of finding safe and inclusive spaces to have fun," Shelley says.
"It's always been my goal that local families, especially those who have disabled kids, know us to be a place where every child is not only welcome, but wanted."
Shelley has provided Supported Storytimes for years, and she's introduced AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) resources in our library, such as the topic board she holds in the photo above and the permanent sign with a core word board in the Community Sensory Garden.
She's also introduced the library scanner pens that read text aloud, Braille readers, and UbiDuo devices, which are Bluetooth-connected laptops that allow communicating privately and on an equal basis with deaf people.
'A blessing to our community': What people are saying
"Your compassion and love for our kiddos comes through every communication and everything that you do to support this community through the library." — Community member
"Such amazing work. Shelley is a blessing to our community." — Alexander Gutierrez, Teen Services Librarian
"Shelley's commitment to kids is out of this world, plus she does so much to educate adults (staff and patrons) on what advocacy and allyship can be. This is so richly deserved!" — Genevieve Grove, Elementary School Services Librarian, Oak Park Public Library
"I am endlessly impressed by her dedication to early learning, her support of caregivers and educators, her unwavering support of inclusion, empathy, and equity, and her commitment to making the library a place for everyone to learn and grow." — Jennifer Norborg, Manager of Children's Services