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Montana Library Association creates new award

Alma Smith Jacobs
Great Falls Public Library
A mural of Jacobs is displayed on the side of the Great Falls Public Library
Posted at 12:32 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 18:12:45-05

The Great Falls Public Library and the Montana Library Association have created a new annual award — the Alma Smith Jacobs Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award — to honor library efforts in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

A Montana native, Smith Jacobs worked as head librarian of the Great Falls Public Library for more than two decades before becoming Montana’s State Librarian in 1973 - both historic firsts, as she was the first Black woman to serve in either position.

A news release from the library says: "A passionate advocate for libraries, education, community and social justice, it is in this spirit that the Alma Smith Jacobs Diversity Equity and Inclusion Award recognizes those who follow Alma’s inspirational lead. Each year, this award will recognize a library, an individual, or a group whose efforts have produced outstanding positive effects in improving equity, diversity and inclusion in library services for Montana."

The library website has more information about Jacobs' impact and the history of the library, including this overview:

In 1954, after working as a catalog librarian for 8 years, Alma Jacobs was named head librarian of Great Falls Public Library. At a time when the city was strictly segregated, Jacobs, an African American, became one of the city’s most respected women through her untiring and determined work for the library. A longtime friend of Jacobs, Dorothy Bohn stated, “it was due to her that people mellowed here in Great Falls”. Jacob’s chief concern was library service to the community and downplayed the subject of her race stating, “I resent being thought of as a Negro librarian. I would rather concentrate on being a good librarian”. Alma Jacobs would head the Great Falls Public Library until 1973 when she resigned to head the Montana State Library in Helena.

Nominations may be made by any library board, individual library, librarian, trustee, MLA member, or the Montana State Library Commission. The award shall be based on, but not limited to, activities or accomplishments such as the following:

  • Actions that have promoted a Library environment that is welcoming, supportive and nurturing of cultural, ethnic, racial, class, gender, sexual orientation, language and other human differences. 
  • Actions and dialogue that highlight unity and strength in diversity.
  • Creation and development of programs and services for the community that celebrate diversity, foster empowerment and improve access to quality library services for the disadvantaged and underserved groups.
  • Actions that have contributed to raising awareness and consciousness about diversity and inclusion in the context of Library services and the wider Montana Library community.

Award winners will be chosen from nominations submitted to the Montana Library Association Awards Committee by March 1, 2022.

The first award winner will be announced at the Montana Library Association annual conference in Missoula (August 3 - 6, 2022).