Denise Kaiser, Friends of the C.H. Booth Library volunteer, might be “flabbergasted” to find that she has been awarded the Friends of Connecticut Library (FOCL) Individual Achievement Award for 2013, but her nominators Jim Maher, the local Friends president, and C.H. Booth Library Director Janet Woycik, are not at all surprised.
Mr Maher and Ms Woycik collaborated on the nomination form submitted last month to the state Friends program, and were notified the week of April 22 that Ms Kaiser had been selected for the honor.
According to the FOCL website, www.foclib.org, “Since 1983, FOCL has been recognizing outstanding local Friends organizations, groups, and individuals in Connecticut. We believe it is important to recognize those who have provided dedicated service to their libraries, at our annual meeting each June. The awards serve as an opportunity for our membership to publicly thank groups and individuals to whom they owe so much.”
The awards have three categories, the Group Award, the Focused Project Award, and the Individual Achievement Award.
“This is the only time a C.H. Booth Friends volunteer has been awarded the Individual Achievement, so far as we know,” said Mr Maher.
“I had no idea I was being nominated,” said Ms Kaiser, Monday, April 29. “I’m really flummoxed. I know that everybody who puts on a sale in all of the surrounding towns works hard and does their best; otherwise it wouldn’t work,” she said.
In nominating her, Mr Maher noted that Ms Kaiser has been instrumental in the ever-increasing sales statistics amassed over the nine years that she has headed the book sale. With more than 130,000 books in all categories, DVDs, CDs, LPs, games, and puzzles organized and displayed in categories at the annual event, along with the meticulously researched collectibles and antique books division, the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library attracts dealers, collectors, and book lovers from all over the region.
In 2012, the gross receipts were $119,000, and have exceeded $100,000 for each of the nine years Ms Kaiser has been in charge. These funds make up the largest portion of the Friends’ annual bequest to the library, covering a large percentage of the book and media purchased for the local library, as well as sponsorship of special programs. Ms Kaiser, he said, has been responsible for the planning, execution, and results of the sale.
Additionally, Ms Kaiser is attentive to the needs and skills of the other volunteers. “Denise has been able to recognize the abilities in others and make use of those talents,” said Mr Maher. “She has a good knack of making the book sale and all that leads up to it fun. It’s not a dread thing you have to do. It’s something the volunteers look forward to,” he said. Ms Kaiser’s sense of working with people coupled with her business plan incorporating visual displays, signage, site maps, advertising, community support, and cooperative programs within the community were among the qualities that led Mr Maher to nominate her for the award.
“I think it’s wonderful that Denise has received this honor,” Ms Woycik said. “Denise Kaiser has been the front person for the book sale for a number of years, and I think that’s why the book sale has raised the amounts of money that it has for the library. She’s the most organized person I’ve ever met,” Ms Woycik praised her, “and she has a great sense of humor. You need that in this job!”
What Makes A Winner
In determining the winner of the Individual Achievement Award, FOCL considers contributions such as lifetime achievement in the local organization, exceptional achievement, substantial increase in book sale or fundraising profits, and/or implementation of a great idea.
Ms Kaiser, an adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield in history, has been involved with Friends of the C.H. Booth Library for 22 years. “As much as I love my kids, I used to come down during story hour to the stacks and sort books all by myself, while a friend watched my kids,” admitted Ms Kaiser, and eventually began signing in for the hours she had worked. Joanne Zang, who was at that time the head of the book sale, called her one evening to ask who she was, as she was not a regular volunteer with the group. She joined the other volunteers sorting books during their regular hours once her children were in school full time, and has been with them ever since.
The people involved in Friends of the C.H. Booth Library are one element of why she remains in the group. The other reason is all of the good she sees the Friends do, in supporting the library.
Turning the book sale into the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Friends has meant meeting challenges, said Ms Kaiser. Along with changes in venues over the years — from the backyard of the library to Bridgeport Hall (now the Newtown Municipal Center) to a circus-sized tent used in conjunction with Newtown Hall at Fairfield Hills to its present site at Reed Intermediate School — Ms Kaiser has also tackled the problem of reaching the public and keeping them aware of the book sale. With channels of communication rapidly multiplying, it has become a team effort, she said, to utilize and figure out which means of print and online publications work for promoting the sale.
The Talents Of Volunteers
Ms Kaiser has recognized the need for the book sale to be more businesslike, and the need to tap into the talents of the volunteers to make the sale run as smoothly as any well-run business.
“If you have talented people, you have to let them run with their skills,” she said. “The volunteers have such good skills. They step up to the plate and that’s fabulous. There’s so much talent in this town,” said Ms Kaiser.
She is quick to say that the it is the volunteers who make her responsibilities manageable, and that it is the ability for all to work together as a team that makes the Newtown book sale so successful. “It’s a very social activity,” she said of the C.H. Booth Friends, “and I think that’s true of most successful activities.”
Friends public relations volunteer Toni Earnshaw is also not surprised that Ms Kaiser is this year’s FOCL Individual Achievement Award recipient. “If I were to comment on Denise’s management of the book sale, I would say that every year and in every way she looks at how we can improve the book sale both for the benefit of the customers and ultimately for the benefit of the library,” said Ms Earnshaw.
It is because of Ms Kaiser’s “incredible record of accomplishment,” said Mr Maher in closing remarks in the letter of nomination to the FOCL, that he was pleased to nominate her for the award.
“There is so much in this town that is laudable,” Ms Kaiser said. “It’s an honor to represent this town.”
Friend of Connecticut Libraries will present awards, Saturday, June 8, at the annual meeting held at Middlesex community College in Middletown. Additionally, winners will be featured in the FOCLPoint newsletter.