Library Journal‘s annual award for the Best Small Library in America, made possible by sustaining sponsor Baker & Taylor, was founded in 2005 to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of these libraries. It honors the U.S. public library that most profoundly demonstrates outstanding service to populations of 25,000 or less (see below for eligibility requirements).

The winning library will receive a $5,000 cash award, and two finalist libraries will be awarded $1,000 each—thanks to Baker & Taylor. All three will be featured in the September 2020 issue of Library Journal and online.

The winner will also be highlighted at the 2020 Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) Conference, and, thanks to support from ARSL, will receive a scholarship to attend and the opportunity to speak there.

Judges will evaluate nominations based on key factors, including:

  • Innovation in developing services and programs that can be replicated by other libraries, including outreach to underserved populations
  • Success in educating patrons in computer use and other new technologies, expanding the reach of library services via technology, and measuring the outcomes of technology usage
  • Creativity in addressing literacy (or multiple literacies, such as digital literacy, information literacy, etc.) across patrons of all ages, including programs focused on early literacy and school readiness (please evidence of impact/outcomes where available)
  • Demonstrated community support
  • Sustained cooperation and partnership with other libraries, schools, other agencies, and businesses.
  • Increase in library use, particularly by new users
  • Evidence of library’s role as community center

Keeping the factors above in mind, please tell us how, in the last two years, you have raised the profile of the library in your community, reached out to new users and remote users, impacted literacy in the community, and used technology to support and grow patron access to materials and information. Please highlight innovative approaches to traditional problems, including seemingly small fixes that work. And, please highlight specific innovations that can be readily adopted by other libraries of all sizes.

Nominators are encouraged to reach out for guidance while developing nominations. Please do so by contacting Meredith Schwartz at

Anyone can nominate a library—the library administration itself, patrons, members of the community, library peers, etc.

  1. There is no entry fee, but each entry must include the following information:
    Name, address, phone number, and email of nominee and the name of the contact person, as well as contact information for the submitter if different from the nominee.
  2. A written explanation of up to two pages (or a list of bulleted narrative points) that clearly enumerates how the library’s accomplishments fit the criteria for the award listed above. (Note: Entries that describe programs and their effects on the community will be especially helpful to the judges in rendering a decision. Supporting materials, such as brochures, testimonials, press clippings, etc., may be included and are helpful, but they are less important than the written narrative.)
  3. Photo(s) of library, staff, and patrons, if possible.
  4. Letters of reference from two library peers. (A library peer is someone who is knowledgeable about libraries in general and knows the nominated library well, but who is not employed by or affiliated with the library in any capacity. Examples include librarians at neighboring libraries or colleagues at the state association or the state library.)
  5. Statistical data. On a separate page please supply the following information:
    • Population served
    • Total annual budget (if you are part of another body of government, note if you pay utility bills, IT, etc.)
    • Per capita budget
    • Circulation (break out e-use if collecting this data)
    • Materials budget (including electronic databases)
    • Physical visits (door count)
    • Virtual visits
    • Number of public access computers per population served
    • Number of days and hours of service per week
    • Number of staff
    • Percentage of staff who are professional librarians.

Most libraries collect this data, but if you do not have all of these statistics, then submit those the library does have. Also, please detail whether the nominated library is a member of a consortium/county-wide service district—what services are provided by it (technology support, training, databases, etc.), what role does the library play in it?



  • A public library serving a community with a population of 25,000 or less as of the most recent U.S. Census.
  • A branch or mobile outreach initiative that serves a distinct population of 25,000 or less, even if it is part of a larger town, county, or district library system. The prize monies must be used only for the benefit of the population under 25,000.

Not eligible:

  • A single community library serving a population greater than 25,000 and not providing service to a rural area or to a rural community is not eligible for the award.
  • Previous winners are not eligible. Previous finalists are eligible to reapply three years after their finalist year (for example, a library honored as a finalist in the 2019 award year is eligible again for the 2022 award year).


Please submit nominations via the form found here.

If you have any questions regarding the submission process, please contact Meredith Schwartz at or by phone at 646.380.0745.

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