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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Western librarians take home the golden apple

Nancy Johnson, left, and Sylvia Tag, right, stand in Wilson Library at Western Washington University. // Photo by Daniel Liddicoet
Nancy Johnson, left, and Sylvia Tag, right, stand in Wilson Library at Western Washington University. // Photo by Daniel Liddicoet

Two Western librarians and self-proclaimed book worms were awarded Golden Apples for their dedication to reading.

The Whatcom County Library recognized Sylvia Tag and Nancy Johnson for their literary education in the community with the 2015 Golden Apple Award in December 2015.

Every year, the Golden Apple Award recognizes a person or persons who have made a significant impact in the lives of youth in Whatcom County, according to the library’s website.

Johnson and Tag are both involved with the Children’s Literature Conference and Poetry CHaT — programs at Western that promote literacy in Whatcom County.

Thom Barthelmess, the youth services manager for the Whatcom County Library System, presented Johnson and Tag with the award for their work bringing young people into direct contact with authors and illustrators, he said.

“They unfailingly reach out to us so that we can build in some opportunities for our kids and teens to have that same access,” Barthelmess said.

In this way, Tag and Johnson’s work extends across the county, uniting Western’s Wilson Library with the greater system of Whatcom Libraries. This “collaborative spirit” is at the heart of why they were recognized, Barthelmess said.

“Getting the Golden Apple was a really huge, huge deal,” Johnson said. “It was another acknowledgment of the ways Western and the community really are partners.”

Johnson founded the annual Children’s Literature Conference, which takes place in the Performing Arts Center, nearly 13 years ago. Tag also participates in and contributes to the conference as an active board member.

Well known authors and illustrators from around the country gather at Western to educate the conference’s attendees about the field of children’s literature and help them improve their writing and illustrative skills.

Authors Peter Brown, Cynthia Lord, Melissa Sweet and Gene Luen Yang will speak at the 2016 conference on Feb. 27.

“The whole purpose of the conference when it started was to bring to Western the best of the best in the field,” Johnson said.

Western and Whatcom Community College students are highly involved in the conference—more than 80 attended the last event at a reduced cost, Johnson said.

Western alumna Hannah Newman, who graduated in June with a degree in creative writing, worked closely with Johnson and Tag in preparation for the conference for two years as a student volunteer coordinator.

“Their passion for the topic is infectious,” Newman said. “It’s absolutely one of the most motivating forces I had when it came to determining that young adult literature and children’s literature was going to be a part of the rest of life in some capacity or another.”

Many children and young adults in Whatcom County attend the conference, in addition to college students, Johnson said.

“Our audience is really broad, and that was the intention,” Johnson said. “It’s a day of inspiration. That’s really what it is.”

Johnson and Tag are also actively involved in Poetry CHaT, which is the Children & Teen Poetry Collection, which includes works written and published from 1920 and on.

There are many children’s collections all over the United States, but none that specialize in poetry, Tag said.

“It’s been building momentum and we’ve recently started to really make valuable connections with poets, nationally,” she said.

Johnson and Tag’s motivation to promote literacy stems from a shared love of reading.

“I bet if you pulled us apart, we’d have this same philosophy. To us a library, whether it’s the building or the concept of library, is really the heart of so much,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who has been an educator since college, holds to the philosophy that education should surpass the walls of a classroom, she said.

Likewise, Tag believes libraries should be a lifetime tool.

“For me, the connectivity of libraries is very important,” Tag said.  “Literacy is something that starts at the beginning of a child’s life and then goes through to [higher education]. It doesn’t end at high school.”

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