On June 9, the American Library Association (ALA) announced Laurence Copel as the first recipient of the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity. Copel is a youth outreach librarian and founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library in New Orleans. Daniel Handler, also known as “Lemony Snicket” and the author behind of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” series (Harper Collins), will present the winner with the prize on June 29 during the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas. (To read SLJ’s earlier coverage about Handler and this award, visit here.)
“Copel is a brilliant example of how librarians can serve as change agents,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling.
The Lemony Snicket prize was dreamt up and funded by the “Series of Unfortunate Events” author. (ALA co-administers the award.) According to the ALA’s June 9 press release, “The prize…annually recognizes and honors a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact. The honoree will receive a $3,000 check, $1,000 travel expenses, a certificate, and an odd object from Handler’s private collection.”
While which odd object is in question, Copel’s unique ability to overcome adversity is not. The youth librarian moved from New York City to New Orleans in 2010 and saw a need to provide age-appropriate material to the city’s youths. She opened a library in her home out of her own pocket—and small donations—while surviving on $350 a week. Her bicycle became a converted bookmobile carrier so she could reach youths who could not travel to her. She became known to the children as the “Book Lady.”
Providing books for her young readers has been filled with trials and tribulations for Copel, who overcame a burglary, limited financial resources, a lack of assistance from local politicians, and significant weather damage to her home that destroyed many of her library’s books. Still, Copel has provided more than 7,000 books to children in need.
Undeterred, she has organized two parades with the help of the children of the Ninth Ward—complete with a marching band and float—to distribute books. When she found out that the cost of the parade permit and escort for the parades amounted to hundreds of dollars, she raised the money by selling homemade soaps and raffle tickets.
“What especially struck me is that Copel is dealing not just with an adverse incident, but with continuing pervasive adversity,” said Award Chair Eric Suess. “She has dedicated so much of her time and personal resources, as well as her tremendous affection for the children of the Ninth Ward. My hope is that she will continue to fight to place books in the hands of young readers.”