‘Relentless Curiosity’ Drives Dana Award Recipient

When John Cotton Dana, SLA’s founder and first president, became Denver’s first librarian, he pushed for the right to allow patrons to browse the stacks themselves rather than ask librarians to assist with every request. Had Jill Hurst-Wahl been living in Denver then, she would have been the first to take advantage of this opportunity.

When Jill receives the John Cotton Dana Award at SLA’s Honors and Awards Ceremony today, it will be a fitting tribute to a career that continues to address information challenges even in semi-retirement. The Dana Award, first presented in 1979, is granted to an information professional to recognize a lifetime of achievement as well as exceptional service to SLA and the library and information profession.

Rare is the SLA member who doesn’t know Jill, or at least know of her because of a quirk of her attire—a backpack. Jill and her backpack have been a fixture at SLA events since she joined SLA in 1990. Part educator, part business owner, part technology enthusiast, and all librarian, Jill has brought her unique mix of energy, idealism and pragmatism to every role she has played in SLA, and there have been many: business manager, archivist, and president of the Upstate New York Chapter; chair of the Association Networking Committee and the Second Life Workgroup; member of the Information Outlook Advisory Council, the Headquarters Building Committee, the Leadership and Management Community, the Baseball Caucus, the Information Technology Community, the Solo Librarians Community, and the Business and Finance Community. Notwithstanding these commitments, she somehow found time to serve on the SLA Board of Directors from 2011 to 2013.

It would be easy to attribute Jill’s service to SLA—and to the many other library and public service groups to which she belongs—to a burning desire to make a difference and improve her profession and her community. And while she has an abundance of desire, not to mention a strong work ethic and an unwavering moral compass, she has something else, something her ubiquitous backpack speaks to: a relentless curiosity. Jill is like an explorer, always seeking to learn more about the world around her, not afraid to ask questions, and always, always, always willing to share what she learns.

That passion for sharing information is evident in her long career on the faculty of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, where she taught graduate courses on several topics, including copyright, information literacy, and collection development. It is evident as well in the dozens of journal and magazine articles, book chapters, and blog posts she has written, and in the many sessions she has presented and moderated at professional conferences and meetings.

Jill has been honored many times for her accomplishments. For example, she received an SLA Presidential Citation in 2008 for her leadership of the Second Life program, and in 2011 she received the Chapter Merit Award from the Upstate New York Chapter. A year later, in 2012, she received the Grieg Aspnes Outstanding Member Award from the SLA Information Technology Division. And those are just her SLA honors — she was honored by Syracuse University in 2012 with the Jeffrey Katzer Professor of the Year Award, which recognizes a full-time faculty member for outstanding teaching, advising and service.

But those who know Jill understand that the recognition she most cherishes is the respect of her peers and the many students she has taught at Syracuse. That respect was captured by a letter submitted on Jill’s behalf by an SLA member who was endorsing Jill for the John Cotton Dana Award.

“I am not in academia, and we are not in the same community within SLA, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt her presence in SLA,” the endorser wrote. “Seeing professionals like her at the helm of projects that I was not qualified for, or ready to participate in, gave me a role model to look at.”

Jill recently retired from Syracuse and has announced that she will be stepping back from SLA, but her relentless curiosity will surely get the best of her, so her retirement will be anything but retiring. She still has her business, Hurst Associates, Ltd., which works with a broad range of organizations to provide research, coaching, and project management services. She’s active in the EveryLibrary Institute and Library Futures, and she still blogs on topics that interest her. And her many former students and fellow SLA members know they can always reach out to her for advice.

All in all, it’s likely that Jill and her backpack will get a lot more wear and tear in the years ahead.

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