Library Journal Names the 2013 Best Small Library in America



Southern Area Public Library, Lost Creek, WV, wins; two finalists also named.

For full coverage go to

Krista Rafanello
Library Journal
[email protected]


New York, NY, February 1, 2013— They call it “the Little Library with a Big Heart”: Of the 175 public libraries in West Virginia, the Southern Area Public Library (SAPL) in tiny Lost Creek is the smallest, with a service population of just 498. Under Mary Beth Stenger, SAPL has been transformed from a good, traditional public library into a modern, bustling center of community activity, information, and learning. All on a budget of just under $35,000 and the labor of a staff of two, a band of 20 volunteers, and a small Board of Trustees. In activity, energy, growth, and community engagement, however, it ranks with the state’s best and is a national model, and as such it has won Library Journal’s annual Best Small Library in America Award. It is the smallest library ever to win the title.

 The award, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was created in 2005 to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of libraries serving populations under 25,000. It recognizes one winning library and two finalists each year. The Southern Area Public Library will receive a cash prize of $20,000, as well as support for two representatives to attend the 2014 Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Indianapolis, which will include a gala event in honor of the library.

 Among the many things that won SAPL the award is the library’s place in the heart of the community, notes LJ Editor-at-Large John Berry in his cover story about the library in the Feb. 1 issue of the magazine. It’s a member of the Geek the Library campaign, a nationwide program to raise community awareness of libraries, and locally it’s launched its own Big Heart Campaign, selecting a different charity to help each month.

 Another award-worthy effort is the sheer intensity of the library’s programming. All told, since Stenger’s appointment programs have grown from 28 to 227 last year. The library also provides after-school snacks for the many latchkey kids that school buses drop at SAPL every weekday it is open. While at the library, children get homework help and computer support. High schoolers get help with résumés and college applications.

 Besides Stenger, the only other employee at SAPL is Wilma Bennett. In her interview, Stenger told the board that she didn’t want to work alone with no backup. “She has given me time to pursue funding and other vital needs I couldn’t do with so many hours each week devoted to preparing and presenting programs for children,” says Stenger.

 Among the vital needs she’s addressed are technology updates. SAPL is on Facebook and a Twitter. The SAPL website has been upgraded and refurbished. And Stenger added new technology to the library’s services and administrative processes. Two new computers from Work Force and West Virginia Library Commission and tables bought with funds given by the legislature will bring the SAPL computer total to eight. They are constantly in use, in rural, low-income Lost Creek.

 “I believe the best way to direct a library is to passionately pursue new ideas, new programs, and new partnerships,” Stenger says. “We are a small town with a hot dog place and inside a gas station a sandwich and pizza place. Yet our library has pulled together members and organizations throughout our town as well as surrounding towns to build lots of programs, buy books and other materials, and collaborate on all kinds of projects.”            


The Best Small Library in America award program has named two finalists in addition to the winner. The two other finalist libraries will each receive a $10,000 cash award, conference costs for two library representatives to attend the 2014 PLA meeting and award celebration, and more. The two finalists this year both hail from the Lone Star State, chosen from among an impressive array of national nominees and following a lively selection process by this year’s panel of judges. Both libraries selected as finalists demonstrate winning criteria in their innovation, technology usage, model programs, and responsive service. They finalists are:

 Bell Whittington Public Library, Portland, TX: RoseAleta Laurell, Director

Serving a population of 15,099 in a satellite community near Corpus Christi, this library does an awful lot with the $29 per capita budget at its disposal. The judges noted innovative outreach that can easily be duplicated by other libraries, while judge Julie Hildebrand called it “amazing considering the size of their staff,” just three full-time, four part-time. The library’s recent record of programming with high attendance numbers and a strong focus on technology is well demonstrated by the “Seniors in Cyberspace” program held in partnership with senior centers and other community sites such as the local Dairy Queen restaurants. Attendance for the course reached 1,758, with evaluations showing 100 percent rate of achievement in signing up for new email addresses.

 Alpine Public Library, TX: Paige Delaney, Director

The 9,232 people in Alpine, a very remote town near Big Bend, benefited greatly from the opening of the new public library in 2011. Community engagement shepherding the efforts of local businesses and individuals drove the fundraising for most of the $1.4 million needed, and it continues in operations through robust volunteerism. The varied population that includes Spanish-speakers, the homebound, and the incarcerated are aided by a variety of impressive outreach programs. Meanwhile, the library is savvy about technology in-house, with 11 public access computers for adults and another three for kids, and an impressive “online [Geographic Information System]–based map-interface catalog” that allows patrons to locate materials in the region by clicking on a map.

 The full Library Journal article on the 2013 Best Small Library in America Awards can be found at For guidelines for the 2014 nomination, contact Michael Kelley at [email protected]; 646-380-0740; or go to


Founded in 1876, Library Journal is one of the oldest and most respected publications covering the library field. Over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries read LJLibrary Journal reviews over 8000 books, audiobooks, videos, databases, and web sites annually, and provides coverage of technology, management, policy, and other professional concerns. For more information, visit www.libraryjournal.comLibrary Journal is a publication of Media Source Inc., which also owns School Library Journal, The Horn Book publications, and Junior Library Guild.


Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In theUnited States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based inSeattle,Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

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