UI professor wins award for essay exploring library outreach services

Jennifer Burek Pierce, an associate professor at University of Iowa, won an award for her piece, ‘More Than a Room with Books: The Development of Author Visits for Young People in Mid-Century U.S. Public Libraries.’


Photo by Karl Lang. (Contributed by Jennifer Burek)

Maddie Johnston, Arts Reporter

Jennifer Burek Pierce says she has had a “lifetime relationship with libraries.”

Following in her librarian mother’s footsteps, Pierce started volunteering for libraries in second grade and continued throughout her teen years. Her experiences and years of study culminated into her most recent piece, More Than a Room with Books: The Development of Author Visits for Young People in Mid-Century U.S. Public Libraries, which won the Justin Winsor Library History Essay Award in a unanimous vote.

The Justin Winsor Library History Essay Award is given annually to recognize the best essay written on library history in America.

Pierce studied literature throughout undergraduate school at Northern Arizona University and graduate school at Gonzaga University. She then received her master’s in library science from Indiana University.

Now she works as an associate professor at the University of Iowa’s School of Library & Information Science, with areas of focus in the history of readers and reading, resources for children, and humanities librarianship. Along with her most recent publication, she’s published research including, Narratives, Nerdfighters, and New Media, Sex, Brains, and Video Games: Information and Inspiration for Youth Services Librarians, and What Adolescents Ought to Know: Sexual Health Texts in Early 20th Century America.

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In the recently awarded piece, Pierce delved into the history of author visits in public libraries — exploring when they started and why they have prevailed for so long, even when they take immense resources for library staff to organize.

Pierce found that in the American Library Association’s Committee on Post War Planning released a mandate for libraries to modernize their field with non-book resources in 1946. Newark Public Library’s youth services librarian Beatrice Schein went above and beyond the mandate, initiating the first ever author visit in an American library, Pierce found.

She focused on how Schein became a role model for other public librarians to emulate, and explained how author visits have become an integral part of library outreach.

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“Libraries are about literacy, and libraries are about helping create a sense of community of shared interest of common engagement with books and ideas,” Pierce said. “When we help generate interest and enthusiasm for books by letting people meet with authors, get their signature on books, that helps feed enthusiasm and people’s engagement with literacy and reading, which is very beneficial to them individually and to a community.”

In a press release, the Winsor Selection Committee said Pierce’s paper was selected for its in-depth research into an area previously unconsidered. One reviewer called the piece a joy to read, with vivacious and enthusiastic writing that engaged the reader’s intellectual curiosity.

Pierce reflected on the award, acknowledging and appreciating the help she received from her peers.

“I’m tremendously honored to have won the award that — you know, some of the best known and most recognized historians in library and information science have won this award,” Pierce said. “So, to be recognized as following their lead and doing work of their caliber is tremendously gratifying.”

Pierce’s piece will be published in the official LHRT journal, Libraries, Culture, History, and Society.