On May 8, I was once again privileged to be participating in the National Medal ceremony for Museum and Library Services, given out annually by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. The ceremony was held at the White House with awards presented by Mrs. Michelle Obama. Last year I was appointed by President Obama to serve as a board member for the IMLS, a five-year term, and attended that ceremony which was also held at the White House with Mrs. Obama. Let me say that being at the White House does not get old!
The Institute for Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is “to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.” Its “grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive.”
As a board member of the Institute, I take part in the voting process for these awards, along with the other 19 board members. Depending on our professional interests, we are split between those with ties to libraries and archives, and those to museums, defined in the broadest terms to include such things as zoos, botanical gardens, etc. The National Medal for Museum and Library Services is awarded as the nation’s highest honor to libraries and museums, celebrating institutions that make a difference for individuals, families and communities. This year marked its 20th anniversary of bestowing the awards.
Since 1994, the National Medal for Museum and Library Service has honored 142 outstanding institutions that have made significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. This year ten institutions were honored as finalists from a field of 30, selected from more than 100 nominations that describe how local libraries and museums have interacted with the public and how the work of these institutions have often changed the lives of members of their communities.
As part of the ceremony, personal stories are told that demonstrate the ongoing impact of the institutions on the public. These stories are documented through a cooperative agreement between IMLS and StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of American from all backgrounds and beliefs. These stories are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps will visit each of the medal winners and document more community stories.
Museums and libraries have nearly all been hard hit during the financial crisis of the past few years, many losing significant amounts of their staff, thus causing a reduction in both open hours and services. Some institutions have had to close. Therefore, it is amazing to read and hear the work that these institutions have been able to accomplish despite these financial setbacks. Whether it is working with new immigrants to learn English and become US citizens, in developing community gardens which teach teens about good work and healthy eating habits, to inspiring students to learn scientific methods to discover their environment and explore its complex relationships, as well as to creating a space for mothers and toddlers to interact with early reading experiences, all these institutions wish to assist their communities with services that educate, inspire, and transform lives. With these medal we all can salute the continued work and enthusiasm of their staff.