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.

Group celebration at Cabell County Public Library
Photo courtesy of the Cabell County Public Library.

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.

Seniors engage with tech activities Memphis Public Library
MPL's Techy Seniors classes give older adults the tools they need to utilize tablets and smartphones to reduce social isolation and increase resource access. (Courtesy of the Memphis Public Library)

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.

Child watering outdoor plant Mississippi Children's Museum
A child waters plants in the Literacy Garden during MCM’s “Know to Grow” program. (photo credit: Lindsay McMurtray, courtesy of the MCM)

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.

Participants engaged at an activity table Highwood Public Library
Homework Help: Our Youth Services Librarian, Diana Wence, works on math concepts with a sixth grade student who recently arrived in the country with her family from Central America. Through a strong partnership with the local school district, our library was able to support this student who was struggling to acclimate to a new environment and learning system. After several weeks of one-on-one tutoring, the student stated, “I no longer feel lost in my classes. I understand how to access the schedule and assignments and feel good about my work.” (Courtesy of the Highwood Public Library)

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.

Parent and Child in a lodge High Desert Museum
Adult and child in lodge: An adult and child wonder at the interior replica of a beaver lodge, part of the original exhibition Dam It! Beavers and Us. The High Desert Museum was open to serve the community during part of 2020 to provide joy, inspiration and connection for families. In addition, the Museum provided robust online programming for youth and adults alike throughout the duration of the year. (Photo credit: Dave Stalker, courtesy of the High Desert Museum)

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.

Active participants in outdoor event Museo de Arte de Ponce
Soon after the 2020 earthquake, the Museum started a community program called “El Museo Sale a la Calle” (“The Museum Goes Out to the Street”) that impacted over 1,400 people. Staffers along with the Community Outreach team mobilized to offer art workshops in communities affected by the earthquake. Workshops were given in public housing complexes, schools and shelters benefitting people of all ages. (Courtesy of Museo de Arte de Ponce)

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.

National Medal for Museum and Library Service