The public library's private advocate

Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

When Nancy Ferrell was growing up in a broken home in Milwaukee, the public library there was her haven.

"It was a place of enjoyment for me ... and a place for information," Ferrell said. Her childhood escape turned into a lifetime of library use and promotion - a passion that led her to receive the Library Advocacy Award at the Alaska Library Association at the association's convention here in March.

Ferrelll has lived in Alaska for more than 40 years, and in that time she's helped start the library in the former Capital School in the 1960s, served on the board of directors for the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries and published the Friends of the Public Library newsletter. She also has written more than a dozen books, many of which tell Alaska's stories to children and adults.

"A lot of her books are written about nonfiction," said Juneau Public Library director Carol Race, who nominated Ferrell for the award. "She does research here and digs for information and she can always present it in such a light that you want to do the same."

The library advocacy award is a fairly new award for the Alaska Library Association, said Freya Anderson, Juneau chapter chair of the ALA.

"It's somebody who has personally, not as part of their job, put forth a great deal of effort to improve libraries in some way," Anderson said. "For Nancy ... basically she's advocated for libraries in just about every way you can think of."

Ferrell's writing has been a unique form of advocacy for libraries, Anderson said.

"She doesn't choose the books that she's going to write so much because that's what she wants to write about, but she looks for holes, for subjects that don't have a book for that age group, primarily children," Anderson said. "That's a method of advocacy as well."

In addition to advocating libraries through her writing, Ferrell has helped people feel welcome at the library.

"Her shining grace is her role for being a diplomat," Race said. "She knows just how to make everyone feel so welcome and so good. ... She's been helping out to make the libraries a friendlier and better place all the time."

Ferrell works to make people feel comfortable at the library by "taking their requests seriously," she said. "I always listen to what they need, and if I can't help them ... there are other people in the library who can help them so that when they leave the library they have what they need."

Ferrell worked at the Juneau Public Library part time from 1980 to 1996, and has volunteered there since. The benefits for her are in the books she reads and the people she meets, she said.

"Librarians are my kind of people," she said. "They're interested in reading and writing and helping people, they like words and they're fun."

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