Safi S. M. Safiullah was named Librarian of the Year by the Utah Library Association on Thursday, May 18, 2017, at the association’s annual conference. Safiullah, the Manager of the Salt Lake City Public Library’s Marmalade Branch, was recognized for his career in community engagement and lifelong support of libraries and education around the world.
Soon after joining The City Library staff in 2002, Safiullah began creating partnerships with schools, grassroots organizations, and diverse communities across Utah to initiate cultural programming at the Library. His efforts have sparked dialogues on a wide array of topics—including religious pluralism, redistricting Utah, race and gender issues, police violence, and Islamophobia—in order to enlighten Utahns on topics of current importance. Most recently, in partnership with KRCL and Utah Humanities, he organized an event about “fake news,” bringing together journalists and experts including Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Page Editor George Pyle, Salt Lake City Weekly Editor Enrique Limón, Deseret News Senior Project Editor Allison Pond, and Associate Professor of Journalism at BYU Joel Campbell.
Born in rural Bangladesh to a father who served as a District Juror Board member and a homemaker mother with a kind heart, Safiullah had a love for community engagement deeply ingrained in him from a very young age. He joined the University of Benghazi in Libya on a cultural exchange scholarship and received an undergraduate degree in History. He received his Master’s degree from the University of Manitoba in Canada before earning his Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from the University of Utah, where he now teaches as an Adjunct Assistant Professor. Safiullah also serves on various committees in the Utah Library Association, American Library Association, and Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.
In presenting the Librarian of the Year Award, Tommy Hamby, The City Library’s Adult Services Coordinator, said, “I was touched—but not surprised—to learn that Safi is converting his childhood home in Bangladesh into a library to provide resources and increase literacy among children who attend the school he founded with a few friends in 1976.” Safiullah was in 10th grade at the time, walking three-and-a-half miles to a neighboring village every day to attend school, and initiated the school building project to make education more accessible to their village.
“I am pleased, humbled, and honored to receive this award,” said Safiullah during his acceptance speech. He spoke of the struggles in his life to pursue education and his drive to bring education to people in every community in which he’s lived. “I consider myself a jungle tiger, having grown up in Bangladesh, walking to school in bare feet, catching fish to bring to my mother,” Safiullah said. Safiullah acknowledged that his accent, his Asian background, and his Muslim faith have created barriers he has needed to overcome in order to bring members of the community together. He has relied on persistence and an open mind to make inroads on behalf of the community. “If I can touch people’s minds and hearts, they will accept me,” he said.
“Safi earns the title of ‘Librarian of the Year’ every day,” said Peter Bromberg, Executive Director of The City Library. “It’s a much-deserved recognition of someone who is already widely recognized as an important member of the Salt Lake City community.”