GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent District Library has been nationally recognized for the impact it has had on the community.
The library system has been awarded the 2023 Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize, which comes with a $250,000 grant and a profile in the Library Journal.
The prize, first started in 2019 in partnership between the Gerald M. Kline Family Foundation and Library Journal, recognizes a library each year that has a big impact on its community. The winning library must demonstrate community impact through things like engagement with local government, inclusion of underserved populations, inventiveness and leadership development.
Jaci Cooper, the director of projects and planning for KDL, said the team was “elated” to find out they won.
“We’re so thrilled to have received this national honor,” she said. “There are so many deserving libraries out there and to be honored with this has just been really incredible and really a testament to how many wonderful people we have here at KDL. But even more than that, how many wonderful and supportive people are in the community making this possible for us.”
She said winning the award shows how well the members of the organization work together.
“It really was a comprehensive application that touched on so many wonderful things that we’re doing in partnership with our community. So it’s really a prize for the community itself as well,” she said.
KDL’s executive director, Lance Werner, “does an excellent job” with engaging with local government, Cooper said. KDL’s profile in the Library Journal says Werner has been lobbying the state Legislature for two bills, one that would prohibit book bans and one that would criminalize “behavior that endangers library or school employees.”
He also stays connected with the municipalities throughout Kent County. Cooper said in his local government engagement, Werner has emphasized “the importance of developing proactive authentic relationships.”
“That really trickles down to every person in this in this organization,” she said.
She said the KDL organization has a culture of authentically engaging with each other and members of the community.
KDL also strives to recognize all the communities represented among the 400,000 people and 27 municipalities it serves, Cooper said.
“We would be remiss if we also didn’t recognize how unique and how special each community within our service area is,” she explained. “So we really try to have each community guide the types of programs and projects and partnerships that we have here.”
KDL offers several unique programs to its patrons, like KDL Vibes, a free music streaming service that features and pays local artists, and Concerts for the Community.
“Due to the generosity of a donor, (we) were able to help provide tickets to some of the Frederik Meijer Gardens shows over the summer to people who may not otherwise experience them,” Cooper said. “We really leverage those partnerships to create programs that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do on our own.”
She also pointed to the Bookmobile as a way KDL is engaging with the community and building relationships in spaces outside of the physical libraries.
Library leadership is still finalizing plans for the $250,000 award. It wants to make sure it’s “put back into the community and it has a long-lasting impact,” Cooper said.
“We want to do something that will be able to honor that really amazing and really generous cash prize for years to come,” she said.