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Librarian at Sakai Intermediate School is winner of national I Love My Librarian Award

Kathy Meulen Ellison of Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School has been named a winner of the Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times I Love My Librarian Award.

She is one of 10 librarians across the country to receive the prestigious honor.

Ellison has been the librarian for 22 years, and has been at Sakai for the past seven years. She said she was stunned to receive the honor.

"I'm just amazed. There are a lot of great librarians who got nominated, and it's a real honor to be a part of that group," Ellison said.

"We have a lot of amazing librarians on Bainbridge Island — period," she added.

Ellison also said she was thankful for the Bainbridge Island community that supports the enriching things that she and other librarians try to do every day.

"I think that the fact that I'm still a librarian on Bainbridge Island can be credited to the school district and the Bainbridge Schools Foundation trying to find a way to keep our program during the economic budget cuts that have been difficult to live through because of the loss of state funding," she said.

More than 1,100 library patrons nominated librarians in public, school, college, community college and university libraries for this year's awards. Ellison is the only winner from Washington state, and just 60 librarians have earned the honor since the I Love My Librarian Award was established in 2008.

I Love My Librarian Awards will be presented the night of Tuesday, Dec. 17 at a ceremony and reception in New York City, hosted by The New York Times. Each winner also receives a $5,000 award.

Ellison's love of libraries started at a young age, when she was growing up in Indianapolis, Ind. and Renton. Her mom and dad took her to the libraries a lot when she was a kid, she said.

Her father, who was a plastics fabricator and also worked in a lumber mill, is functionally illiterate because of a learning disability. But he also knew the power of reading, and since money was tight for the family, he would take them to the local public library for entertainment.

"He always told me that reading was such a great gift and I kind of grew up thinking that reading was a magical gift that some people were capable of doing and other people were not capable of doing," Ellison recalled.

"Librarians were a big part of that. We weren't very rich and the public librarians were the givers of books; supportive of a kid who loved reading and didn't have a lot.

"It was very clear to me that I wanted to be a part of that. I thought it was a very noble profession and I wanted to be a part of giving back," she said.

Ellison was nominated for the award by Ailene Isaf, a para-educator at Sakai.

“Essential is exactly the word that defines our librarian. There is no aspect of our school’s life that does not have her handprint on it," Isaf wrote in her nomination submittal.

"Kathy Ellison is a superb librarian who builds community, advances learning, supports curiosity and diversity, fosters acceptance, and deepens understanding for the students and staff of Sakai Intermediate School, using technology, community members and special projects," Isaf added. "Kathy is an intellectual learner who loves to teach and get involved. Our library is the hub and the heart of our school, and Kathy Ellison is the heart, the head and the hands of our library."

School officials noted Ellison's involvement with the "Leaving Our Island" project, which honors Bainbridge's Japanese-American citizens who were taken from the island and sent to internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor at the start of World War II. Ellison introduces the topic to fifth- and sixth-grade students with a multi-media presentation she prepared, and each student chooses a book related to the internment to study. The project ends with elder citizens and their families sharing their personal experiences with the Manzanar internment camp during panel discussions at the school.

School officials also praised Ellison for helping to create a new tradition at the school, "Sakai Reads," an all-school enrichment program now in its fifth year where students read books on a theme, as well as her involvement in the school's yearly salmon-rearing project and her efforts to help integrate technology in the classroom.

Ellison was leading this year's Sakai Reads event last month when she found out she had been named as a winner in the I Love My Librarian competition.

She got a phone call from a past president of American Library Association, and intrigued, she went out to the school parking lot to return the call and was given the news.

"It was kind of a shocker," Ellison said.

But that one wonderful moment was followed by another wonderful moment, she said, when she went back into the school and had a pizza party with students who had participated in Sakai Reads.

"It was kind of great," Ellison said.

The award isn't an entirely personal accomplishment, she said.

"I can't say enough about my colleagues, our really extraordinary people," Ellison said of her Sakai community. "I hope this feels like we are accepting this together for all of our program. We do great things together as a group."

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