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Local Librarian Wins Top Honors

By Jeneé Darden
Special to The Lookout

November 28 -- Sylvia Anderle had just arrived for her regular noon-to-9 p.m. shift at the Fairview Branch Library when a colleague handed her the phone. A representative from the New York Times was on the line.

“I thought they were selling a subscription,” Anderle recalled.

Instead, the caller told her that she was a recipient of the 2005 New York Times Librarian Awards, an honor for “outstanding public service” given to only 27 librarians from a field of more than 1,200 nominees nationwide.

Sylvia Anderle (Photo by Gene Williams)

“After she told me the reason for the call I started getting giddy,” laughed Anderle, a children’s and Latino outreach librarian who colleagues describe as “vibrant,” “energetic” and “welcoming.”

Anderle, 61, was being honored for her 11 years of service helping some 500 Spanish-speaking children build their English literacy skills through a summer reading program she developed.

This program, along with her innovative Spanish story-time readings, fuels Anderle’s passion to help bilingual kids read at their grade level.

“I tell kids to take pride that you’re bilingual," she said. "That’s an asset in this world. You just need to improve your reading skills."

The program, unique to the Fairview Branch, is now held during the school year. Tutors work with kids and their teachers to foster the students’ confidence. The library purchases books specifically for reading training.

“I strive to make this a sanctuary for kids to work,” Anderle said.

Many of the program’s patrons come from countries where there are no libraries or people don’t have access to them, she said. That’s why Anderle encourages parents to join their children at their libraries.

“It gives me great comfort to see moms, dads and kids coming to sit at a table," she said. "I want to make going to the library a routine in their lives.”

Anderle, who got her first library card in her adult years, said she personally understands why it’s important for immigrants to make using the libraries part of their lives.

Raised in Long, Island, N.Y., the daughter of Cuban immigrants, she witnessed how native culture along with language barriers and other obstacles cause immigrants to be uninformed about the libraries.

“My family valued education a great deal, but I was not raised in a family that took me to the library because they were immigrants,” Anderle said.

“As immigrants, they didn’t have the tradition of the public library and they had to work to assimilate and provide for the family,” she said.

It wasn’t until college that Anderle began going to libraries. Then, following graduation from Syracuse University, she worked at the New York Public Library, where she met her husband of 36 years, Donald Anderle, also a librarian.

However, it was a “dynamic” librarian at her children’s elementary school in New York that ignited Anderle’s interest in library science.

“She made the job seem like fun," said the mother of two. "She was excited about what she was selling to kids and kids were excited about books."

Anderle began taking library science classes in New York, but finished her master’s degree at UCLA after her family relocated to Santa Monica. Her husband became director of the Getty Research Institute’s library.

Sixteen years later, Anderle and her husband returned to the Big Apple for the first time since their move to California for The New York Times Librarian Award. She received a plaque and a cash prize of $2,500.

Humbled by the honor and the publicity, Anderle said the award has a greater meaning.

“Isn’t it great that public librarians can be honored? It’s not just about me,” she said.

While Anderle said she appreciates all the kind words and attention she’s been getting, she joked that it’s going to make it harder to tell people with overdue books to pay their fines.

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