August 31, 2021
By Erica Jaros
The Institute of Museum and Library Services was honored to present six institutions with the National Medals for outstanding service of libraries and museums during a virtual ceremony on August 24. This signature IMLS program is the nation’s highest federal honor that a library or a museum can receive for service to their communities.
The medalists honored this year join 170 previous medalists from the last 25 years, representing the best of community service, cultural engagement, and outreach to the multitude of audiences that these institutions serve every day.
During the ceremony, community members shared what makes their library or museum such a vital part of the community.
Cabell County Public Library has been the center of its Huntington, West Virginia community for over a century, providing social and literacy services in partnership with many community organizations and state and local government. The library’s referral program can aid patrons with anything from paying a utility bill to finding clothes for their children.
The Memphis Public Library in Tennessee engages 13 to 18 –year olds in STEAM-based learning, ranging from graphic design and coding to video production and sculpture, through their Teen Innovation Centers. The Connect Crew mobile outreach team also brings these educational and cultural activities into traditionally underserved neighborhoods.
The Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson, Mississippi is constantly involving itself in the community and creating ways for local students to succeed with Read Across America Day and robotics activities. Their hallmark literacy program, Planting the Seeds to Read, is a partnership with Jackson Public Schools that involves coordinating activities and dinner after work hours to engage the whole family.
During the pandemic, Highwood Public Library outside of Chicago worked with local school districts to locate students transitioning from middle school to high school, get them enrolled, and work with them to meet their academic needs. The library has also been dedicated to supporting the educational needs of adults through a suite of literacy-focused programs available in Spanish, including a Spanish GED, conversational ESL courses, citizenship classes, and more.
The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon is connected to their community through education programs with local school districts and the development of Tribal history and an Indigenous curriculum in partnership with Tribal organizations and schools. The museum’s summer program, “Raptors of the Desert Sky,” is an immersive experience, staff and visitors hike to an undeveloped part of the museum property to release eagles, hawks, vultures, and more to better observe them in their natural habitat.
From workshops for the homeless to yoga for inmates, the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico is committed to connecting people with culture, with a special emphasis on the wellbeing of the most vulnerable. Following devastating hurricanes and earthquakes, the museum has activated “El Museo sale a la calle” (“The Museum Goes Out to the Street”), offering art workshops in shelters and community centers. They also use their building as a collection site for basic need articles and toiletries that can be distributed across the island.
Libraries and museums of all sizes and types from all over the country have stories of excellence that demonstrate their positive impact in the community. These institutions continued to be indispensable during the pandemic, with front-line librarians and museum staff finding new and imaginative ways to offer services in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Congratulations to the Medalists, the finalists, and museum and library staff across America for all the work they do. They represent the best in all of us.
For more information on the National Medals, including nominations for FY 2022 museums and libraries, please visit the IMLS website.