PAWTUCKET – For her work promoting Latino literature to children in Pawtucket and across the state of Rhode Island, Maria Cotto was recognized at the American Library Association’s annual conference last month.

Cotto, the bilingual children’s librarian at the Pawtucket Public Library, was named the Arnulfo D. Trejo Librarian of the Year by REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, an affiliate of the American Library Association.

“It was an honor,” Cotto, who lives in Cranston and has worked at the library for seven years, told The Breeze. “I feel like a celebrity … I was selected among many wonderful librarians.”

Named for Dr. Arnulfo Duenes Trejo, an internationally known librarian and founding president of REFORMA, the award is presented annually to a librarian who has distinguished himself or herself in the field of librarianship, promoted and advocated services to the Spanish-speaking and Latino communities, and made outstanding contributions to REFORMA, according to the organization’s website.

“Maria is tireless in her efforts to bring library services to members in our community,” said Susan Reed, director of the library. “She’s always stepping up and working to provide more Spanish materials.”

Cotto received the award, which consists of a $500 stipend funded by TOMO Books and a commemorative plaque, on June 22 at the 2019 American Library Association annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Another librarian, Edwin Rodarte, of Los Angeles, also received the award.

Cotto has worked as the coordinator for Rhode Island Latino Books Month, run through Rhode Island Latino Arts.

She organizes the group’s book award program, which is in its sixth year and promotes literacy among Latinos by celebrating Latino authors, illustrators, and books that highlight Latino culture and Latin American identity, by choosing and promoting books to schools and other libraries across the state, she said.

“I’m doing what I would want anyone else to do for my family … provide services that are targeted to me,” said Cotto, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 7 years old.

Most kids can’t name a Latino author if you ask them, she said.

As part of the program, children read three books according to their grade level and vote for the book they liked the most. Approximately 1,800 students participated this year from all across the state.

“We’re hoping to increase (the number of participants) next year,” she said.

The program has also partnered with the Rhode Island Center of the Book and received a three-year grant called Raising Readers, which helped provide more than 200 free copies of books to schools and public libraries this year, Cotto said.

She’s also brought Latino authors to Rhode Island, including Mexican author Yuyi Morales, who wrote the book “Dreamers,” and hopes to host more this fall.

At the library, which serves a diverse population of families, Cotto also coordinates bilingual story times and purchases Spanish and bilingual books for children, teens, and adults, including e-books.

“Anything Latino, that’s me,” Cotto said. “I tend to involve myself in a lot of committees, anything that has to do with the Spanish community in Rhode Island.”

She’s a member of the northeast chapter of REFORMA, and the ALA Association for Library Services to Children recently voted Cotto to serve on the 2021 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award Committee, she said.

Last year, Cotto received the Outstanding Librarian Award from the Rhode Island Library Association for her work advocating for children with special needs, including autism.

Cotto and Babs Wells, children’s librarian at the Greenville Public Library, co-founded the Rhode Island Sensory Story Time Support Group, which seeks to empower youth services librarians to better serve children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and is now offered in 12 libraries, Cotto said.

“I’m very thankful,” she said of receiving two awards over the past two years. “I still have a lot of work to do.”

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