Press Release - Detail
Contact:  Chanda Temple, Director of Public Relations
Birmingham Public Library                   
Phone: (205) 444-9279 (cell)

Birmingham Public Library To Receive Prestigious Public Relations Award For Worldwide Celebration of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “Letter From Birmingham Jail’’
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ­– (May 30, 2014) – The Birmingham Public Library will receive a national library public relations award for its 2013 worldwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

The library received the John Cotton Dana Award, which honors outstanding and effective strategic communication campaigns that produce results. The Library Leadership and Management Association presents the award each year. This is the fourth time that BPL has won the award, which will be presented on June 29 during the American Library Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas. BPL was one of eight libraries from across the nation to win this year.  Each library will receive $10,000 from the H.W. Wilson Foundation. The awards will be giving during a reception sponsored by Birmingham-based EBSCO.

Judges received 83 contest submissions. To see a list of all winners, please visit:

BPL Director Renee Blalock said that while BPL employees Jim Baggett and Melinda Shelton lead this project, the whole library staff pitched in to not only make the program a reality but to also help promote it. “This award is a testimony to the power of commitment of all BPL staff in this effort,’’ she said, adding that this award is a tremendous honor for BPL and for Birmingham.  

On April 16, 2013, 50 years to the day that King wrote the letter, 10,000 people from around the world read King’s letter aloud in public places. Several public readings were held in Birmingham locations, including the downtown library. Mayor William A. Bell Sr. kicked off the Birmingham public readings at BPL that morning. Because of the library’s strategic focus, strong research to identify key audiences and effective use of social media, readings took place in 33 states and in 20 countries, from South Africa to Iceland. U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell read an excerpt from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry’s students participated in their own public reading at Tulane University in New Orleans.

In Taiwan, elementary students studied King’s letter and shared their impressions. One child wrote: “You have a wonderful dream and tough mind.’’ Another child wrote: “You are so cool.’’

Birmingham Public Library head archivist Jim Baggett said that to his knowledge, he’s never known of people, on a single day around the world, to hold public readings of such a historical document, which King wrote to highlight the importance of nonviolent resistance in a segregated Birmingham.

“We wanted to share this experience with people around the globe because many people have never read the full text of King’s letter and many are unfamiliar with the history of how the letter came to be written and how the letter has served as an inspirational document to freedom fighters throughout the world,’’ Baggett said.

Established in 1946, the John Cotton Dana Award is the top national award for innovative library public relations and the most prestigious award presented by the American Library Association.

A list of participating locations for the public reading:

BPL’s Pinterest site has several photos from the public readings:

Link to BPL readings:
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