COLA Sweethearts

2017 -Tom Viall


Tom Viall

COLA’s webmaster Tom Viall is probably the only director of the old Bozo’s Kid’s Club ever to receive a Citation of Merit from the Rhode Island Library Association. After majoring in mass communications and film studies at Rhode Island College and creating more than 200 television commercials, he shifted to Internet content design in 1998 and soon became General Manager of The Ocean State Online (, voted “Favorite Website” by Rhode Island Monthly readers for three years  running. In 2003 he joined the team of, the state’s official government website. As President and General Manager since 2005, he has overseen the successful development of dozens of online services to help RI citizens and businesses interact with State Government.  He is a frequent speaker on the social impact of the Internet as well as the efficiencies of eGovernment.

His close association with the Internet has made him a strong advocate of libraries. He firmly believes that the new information age we live in has made libraries even more relevant and necessary. Appointed by Governor Carcieri to the Library Board of Rhode Island in 2008, he has chaired it since 2010—and served as an astute member of the COLA board since 2012. His 2016 RILA award was for advocacy, and so is this year’s COLA award. For patient, intelligent, and always constructive advocacy of Rhode Island libraries, we are proud to name Tom Viall as COLA’s Sweetheart of the Year.

2016 -Cheryl Ann McCarthy

Dr Cheryl McCarthy

Dr. Cheryl Ann McCarthy is a teacher, researcher, and tireless advocate for school and academic libraries . A past president of both the New England Library Association and the School Librarians of Rhode Island (back in its RIEMA days), she has also served on boards for the RI Center for the Book and other organizations. She is known to generations of URI students as professor of library management and coordinator of the School Library Media Program, and to fellow librarians as a supportive colleague and a conference presenter. URI administrators appreciate the graceful competence she brings to all her work, from maintaining accreditation for the School Library Media Program (which received national recognition in 2012) to serving a year as Acting Dean of URI Libraries. Her commitment to school librarianship is unwavering but never narrow; she supports collaborative learning at every level, from elementary school to her own research, and her vision is solidly grounded in the humanities and social sciences.

2015 -Bob Aspri


Bob Aspri

As Executive Director of the HELIN Library Consortium, Bob Aspri long been a positive force in the development of Rhode Island libraries. “I’m just doing my job,” he says; the mission of HELIN is to “continually develop and sustain cooperative initiatives to enhance library resources, systems and services for all member institutions.”

2014 – Howard Boksenbaum

Howard Boksenbaum

Howard Boksenbaum

Howard Boksenbaum retired in 2013 from the RI Office of Library &Information Services (OLIS), where he had served as Chief Library Officer since 2007. He joined the agency in 1988, when it was still the Department of State Library Services (DSLS), and held various positions in it before leaving for a stint as assistant director for Central Information Management Services at the RI Division of Information Tech- nology. To his work in developing the state’s cooperative library services and technology infrastructure, Mr. Boksenbaum has brought a remarkable combination of strengths: a quick grasp of how new technical and economic realities will affect people and institutions; an ability to explain shifting opportunities clearly and persuasively; patience, humor, and a genuine appreciation of other people’s viewpoints as he negotiated library issues in Rhode Island and its municipalities.

2013 – Sen. David Bates and Rep. Joy Hearn


Sen. David Bates

Joy Hean

Rep. Joy Hearn

As co-chairs of the Karla Harry Commission, Sen. Bates and Rep. Hearn have been great supporters of libraries and of COLA. Sen. Bates has been active in both the Barrington Public Library and the Rogers Free Library in Bristol. Rep. Hearn has also been a dedicated library advocate. She spearheaded a statewide Library Awareness Week at the state house in 2010. These Sweethearts, one a Republican and one a Democrat, are shining examples of people who work cooperatively across the aisle to support libraries.

2012 – Gale Eaton

Gale Eaton

Gale Eaton

Gale Eaton has made outstanding contributions to library service and to COLA. As professor and head of the URI Graduate School (now retired), she’s done important research and teaching, largely in children’s services. She’s considered a pioneer in developing online courses. She provided “leadership both in the campus community and the regional library community.” She’s involved in many professional associations. As a board member of COLA, she did a magnificent job of organizing the mailing list, and contributed sensible and wise advice to the board’s deliberations.

2011 – Mark McKenney

Mark McKenney

Mark McKenney

Honored for his many contributions to library service in RI. He had a long history of service to literacy, serving on the boards of the Literacy Volunteers of America, locally, statewide, and nationally, chairing the statewide board. As Chair of the Library Board of RI, Mark showed his strong commitment to top-quality library service. He has served on the boards of the URI Graduate Library School, the Providence Public Library, and the Providence Community Library, which he now chairs.

2010 – Louise Blalock


Louise Blalock

Shortly after the 1979 White House Conference on Library and Information Services, there was a statewide meeting of leaders of the library community in RI to discuss how RI should follow up on the Conference resolutions. Louise Blalock, who was the director of the Barrington Public Library, suggested that there should be a statewide, grassroots library-support group named COLA. And that’s how COLA was conceived and named! We felt that, at COLA’s 25th Anniversary, we should recognize Louise’s important contribution. (Louise, by the way, went from RI to direct the Hartford, CT, public library and was considered a nationally important librarian. She retired from Hartford shortly before the COLA Annual Meeting.)

2009 – Melody Allen


Melody Allen

Melody Allen – children’s library services and literature specialist extraordinaire. Who ya gonna call, when you need advice? Children’s librarians need look no farther than Melody Allen, who retired from her position at the Office of Library and Information Services in September 2008. Melody brought them all together with an online message list for questions and shared expertise. Working cooperatively with Melody’s leadership, children’s librarians planned and carried out wonderful summer reading programs for children, brought “Mother Goose” programming to Rhode Island for preschool children, created and distributed Getting Ready for Kindergarten calendars (in English and Spanish) to parents, and established the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award (voted annually by kids statewide through their libraries). This is only a small sample of her many achievements and participation in cooperative efforts over the past 30 years, which also included RI Kids Count, Leap Into Literature (with the Old Stone Bank), and the Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books and Authors, to name but a few. Her many honors also tell the story of her leadership—locally, regionally and nationally. Melody served on the national Caldecott Award Committee and the Globe-Horn Book Awards Committee. In 2008 she received the Emerson Greenaway Award from the New England Library Association, and a Life-Time Achievement Award from the Rhode Island Library Association. This is not the end of the story, however. Melody remains active in library education, teaching at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

2008 – Peter L. Lewiss


Peter Lewiss

Representative Lewiss has demonstrated his strong commitment to Rhode Island libraries during his ten-year tenure in the General Assembly. As Chair of the Karla Harry Commission on Libraries, created to conduct a comprehensive look at the role and function of all types of libraries throughout Rhode Island, he oversaw SurfRI, the six-week trial website sampling of more than 40 informational databases that all Rhode Islanders could use from home, work, school, or their local public library. During the 2007 legislative session, Rep. Lewiss was the prime sponsor of H5589, to create and maintain a statewide library catalog, providing access to online databases with state funding. In 2004 he was the prime sponsor of legislation which increased the state’s share of support to local public libraries. According to Kathryn Taylor, Executive Director of the Westerly Public Library, “Representative Lewiss has been an Incorporator of the Memorial and Library Association of Westerly for 11 years. He is not only an advocate, but a strong financial supporter as well… ” Two years ago, the Chamber of Commerce invited artists from across Rhode Island to decorate rocking chairs that would be placed in local Westerly businesses. Peter Lewiss sponsored the chair that came to the Westerly Library. Some people were concerned that the chair might offend Peter because it was decorated with the titles of banned books. Peter loved the chair, which is on loan to the library. So on your next visit to the Westerly Public Library, be sure to rock and read in Peter’s chair.

2007 – Anne Parent


Anne Parent

Immediate past Rhode Island Chief of Library Services, Anne also a recent recipient of the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate Library School’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year award. Anne comes by both honors because of her hard work and dedication to the profession, her ability to be forward-thinking, and her approachability. (from Anne’s acceptance) “… There’s an old political adage that can apply well to COLA: If you have the facts on your side, hammer the facts. If you have the law on your side, hammer the law. If you have neither the facts nor the law, hammer the table. The biggest plus COLA has going for us is that we represent citizens, real people on the street, who care deeply about libraries and are willing to fight for them. As we face the need to advocate long and hard in coming months, I’d like to share with you my very favorite political process quote from Margaret Mead, one that is so appropriate that COLA might consider adopting it as its motto: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

2006 – Rhoda Perry

Ronda Perry

Ronda Perry

Rhoda Perry, Rhode Island State Senator. Since she became a state senator in the early 90’s, Rhoda has been a great friend to libraries in the General Assembly, introducing and supporting funding initiatives that help rank Rhode Island libraries among those with the highest level of state support in the country. She has introduced legislation that protests the incursion into the privacy of library records created by the Patriot Act, and has never been afraid to take a stand to support civil rights, open government, and campaign reform.

2005 – Elizabeth H. Roberts

Elizabeth Roberts

Elizabeth Roberts

Elizabeth H. Roberts, Rhode Island State Senator. Senator Roberts has consistently crusaded for the highest level of library service to the state’s broad-based constituency. This year Senator Roberts and her colleagues Rhoda E. Perry, Teresa Paiva Weed, and June N. Gibbs introduced and shepherded legislation to create a special legislative commission to study the current strengths and weaknesses of library service in Rhode Island and to develop a proposal to improve all types of libraries. Senator Roberts notes: “Effective libraries help bridge the digital divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Many new immigrants rely on libraries as their introduction to the country and use the library to learn English and to gain information about jobs and education. Plus, a growing number of senior citizens also use libraries for social interaction, health information, and – because many are on a fixed income – for free information and programs. Libraries help residents connect with the past as well as the modern world around us. Strong library systems support a successful education system, which leads to a better-educated workforce and contributes to a good quality of life.”

2004 – Herman Rose

Herman Rose has been a sweetheart to libraries for many many years, founding and chairing a statewide grass-roots library support group called Citizens for Rhode Island Libraries (CRIL). This was COLA’s predecessor, designed to follow up on recommendations from the first Governor’s Conference on Libraries and Information Services, in preparation for the first White House Conference in 1979. Herman became COLA’s first Vice-Chair, and continued to serve libraries as a member of COLA’s Board for many years.

On his birthday, Herman takes kids to a bookstore and invites each of them to choose a book, which he buys for them. That’s typical of his generosity – it’s personal and focused on his beliefs.

Herman has established a fund at the Rhode Island Foundation called ADDD (Archives, Documents, Display and Dissemination) that provides matching funds for library public relations. He also volunteers his time, and could be found, several times a week, helping kids and adults at the Rochambeau Branch of the Providence Public Library learn to use computers and the Internet. To quote Sarah Weed, Branch Librarian at Rochambeau: “Herman is a friend to librarians, in the most personal way… He’s a good person to reflect with. He’s kind. He feels for you, and he cares about library patrons and the library system. Herman is a blessing.”

2003 – Elizabeth M. Dennigan

DenniganElizabeth M. Dennigan, Rhode Island State Representative – In recognition of her work on behalf of libraries, most notably the founding of “Books are Wings, a program of giving gently used books to children who cannot afford them helping to strengthen the East Providence Public Library branch system her strong support of the OLIS/LORI state library network delivery and interlibrary loan system.

Representative Dennigan also sponsored legislation to fund the Public Library Construction Reimbursement Program.

2002 – Alan Axelrod

Alan Axelrod – He worked hard for many years on the COLA Board, serving in virtually every Board position. During his tenure as Chair of the Board, Allen initiated “Crisis Alerts” to mobilize COLA members to talk to their senators and representatives about timely issues vital to libraries. One of these efforts helped secure a vital increase in delivery services and public library funding.

2001 – Joan Ress Reeves


Joan Ress Reeves

Joan Ress Reeves – A founding member of COLA, Joan represents libraries wherever she goes. She was honored for her many years of work for COLA and on behalf of libraries everywhere, but especially in Rhode Island.

2000 – Barbara Weaver

Barbara Weaver

Barbara Weaver

Barbara came to Rhode Island in 1991 to review the status of the Department of State Library Services. Governor Bruce Sundlun, faced with dire financial conditions was seeking alternative strategies that would trim government size and cost. Barbara brought with her a quiet feistiness and a calm passion that let her take that as a challenge and set about seeking a new paradigm for state participation in library services. When the dust cleared five years later, the Department was the Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS), a unit of the state’s Department of Administration, and had taken on the additional responsibilities of statewide Information Technology and Statewide Planning. The Department’s library programs had continued apace.