|Left to right - Cheryl, Me, Anna|
First, the nomination from the Velma Teague staff, as written by Anna C.
Lesa is leaving. While we are, of course, happy for her and her fabulous new opportunity, we are utterly wretched on our own behalf. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Words cannot fully express how much we will miss her as both a boss and a friend. However, the text of my prior nomination of her for the AZLA Outstanding Library Service Award might give some idea why we should bid farewell to Lesa as someone who deserves to be a perpetual Employee of the Quarter.
Velma Teague Library is a small branch, but thanks to the efforts of branch manager Lesa Holstine, it enjoys a national reputation far greater than its size. She has used her love of reading and readers advisory to become not just an advocate for libraries, but a stellar example of the librarian's continued relevance to a literate community.
Lesa's nationally syndicated book review blog, Lesa's Book Critiques, has received kudos from authors, readers, and the media. Bill Crider’s “Blog Bytes” column in Ellery Queen praised her “fine, thoughtful reviews,” while this August, the Glendale Republic ran a front-page feature article entitled “Glendale Librarian Lauded for Book Reviews,” praising her as a “literary powerhouse.” She was selected by popular online vote for the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer, and has been asked to serve as an Indie Lit Awards voter. The accessibility and integrity of her book reviews have made her a leader in the field. In the words of multiple Agatha-award-winning, bestselling mystery author Louise Penny, Lesa is “one of the most highly respected commentators and opinion makers in crime fiction today . . . . She trusts her own judgment and stands behind it, rather than figuring out where the parade is heading and joining it.” Lesa reads an average of 20 books per month. Although her specialty is mysteries, she reads and reviews a variety of genres, including women’s fiction, urban fantasy, romance, thrillers, nonfiction, etc.
Her blog also serves as a forum for authors to reach readers directly with guest posts and interviews, an especially valuable venue for newly published authors. Generally including a request to share a story about the role of libraries in their lives, Lesa’s interviews have included many testimonials from such prominent writers as Karin Slaughter about how vital libraries were and are to our culture. She is an advocate for libraries on the most fundamental level; when her husband, Jim, passed away in 2010, she asked her blog readers, friends, and colleagues to donate memorial books to their local libraries in lieu of flowers.
In addition to her online reviews, Lesa is a contributing reviewer for various print publications, including Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, The Strand Magazine, and the upcoming edition of Genreflecting. Her reputation has even extended beyond the library and mystery spheres; Women’s World invited her to contribute a review to a feature on mystery fiction, and she has appeared on local television news to recommend books. This spring, Talia Sherer of Macmillan brought her to Book Expo America to recommend mysteries on “The Great Readalike” readers advisory panel, presented by AAP and Library Journal.
Happily, Velma Teague Library has reaped the rewards of all this. Despite its diminutive size, this Glendale branch is now firmly on the map for author book tours. Lesa lures over 25 authors per year to her “Authors @ the Teague” program to discuss their writing and sign books sold in collaboration with the Poisoned Pen bookstore. These events often receive local media coverage, and bring both new and established authors to the attention of our community. Agatha and Macavity-award-winning author Jacqueline Winspear actually appeared at the Teague on the same week that her latest book hit the New York Times bestseller list, while Beth Hoffman was so appreciative of Lesa’s Library Journal review of her first book, the eventually bestselling Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, that she traveled to Arizona independently of her book tour to appear at Authors @ the Teague. These programs reach more than simply those who can physically attend them; Lesa always posts detailed synopses of the talks on her blog, along with synopses of many of the author events that she attends at the Poisoned Pen – and all of this on her own time.
Bringing books and readers together is always Lesa’s ultimate goal. Her colleagues throughout the Glendale Public Library have benefited from her dedication to readers advisory, that impromptu, in-the-trenches form of book reviewing which is more important than ever for libraries to provide to the public. The chair of the GPL Readers Advisory Committee, Lesa holds monthly lunchtime booktalks in which any interested staff members can bring a book to discuss. In addition to exposing us to new titles, this program has given us the experience and techniques we need to become more comfortable talking about them to the public. On a quarterly basis, Lesa also booktalks about fifteen fiction and nonfiction titles in several genres, holding one booktalk for staff and another for the public.
In these changing and often difficult times, Lesa has helped our library retain a positive image and remain relevant in many other ways, too. Many of the free books that publishers and authors send to Lesa end up in the library’s collection, helping to stretch our shrinking book budget. Her blogging, tweeting, and email list are the sort of online outreach we need to get the word out to the public about our events. She helps staff the reference desk, youth desk, and pitches in wherever help is needed with a cheerfully pragmatic, supportive, can-do attitude and good-natured sense of humor that quickly become contagious. Her unflagging enthusiasm and sheer joy in reading are equally contagious, and have helped keep staff morale at VTL astonishingly high despite staff loss, mandatory furloughs, and budget cuts.
To our community – and to the wider Internet community of readers, as well -- Velma Teague is the place to meet authors, talk about books, and find a new book to love. To authors, especially local authors, Lesa is a firm friend who will do everything she can to help them reach their audience; when the Arizona Desert Sleuths, a local chapter of Sisters in Crime, held their first Write Now! conference, she was the natural choice to be their inaugural Fan Guest of Honor. To libraries, in her over 30 years of working in the field, Lesa is a born advocate, one of those rare souls who views her job as a genuine vocation.
So, to conclude this Employee of the Quarter nomination, here’s the Understatement of the Quarter: Lesa, we will miss you.
And, Cheryl's comments on the award:
Lesa has been amazing in her time spent at Glendale Public. She has put Velma Teague Library on the map for her fabulous Authors @ TheTeague programming and has been instrumental in developing reader’s advisory training for librarians. Instituting the Brown Bag Lunches for staff has given librarians other tools in providing reader’s advisory to patrons. Lesa has been a team player in providing staff when there were critical needs at the other library locations. She has done a fabulous job in advocating for libraries through her collaborative efforts with the Chamber of Commerce and the downtown businesses. Thanks Lesa for all that you have accomplished during your time with Glendale Public and I appreciate all your help in making Glendale Public great! You will be greatly missed, but I wish you well and know that we will continue to hear about the great things you are doing at Evansville Public Library.
Thank you to all the staff I've worked with over the last eight and half years, and the three Directors I worked with, Cheryl Kennedy, Sue Komernicky, and Rodeane Widom. It's been a joy to work with you. (I did tell Cheryl they should take the pictures BEFORE reading the nomination so the winner isn't crying in the picture.)