Program: For 22 years the National Medal for Museum and Library Service has honored outstanding institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.
“Day after day, year after year, our nation’s libraries and museums are here for our communities. And at the end of the day, you all don’t measure your impact by the number of books on your shelves or pieces in your exhibits, but by the young people you inspire, the lives you transform and the impact you have every single day on your communities.”
– First Lady Michelle Obama, June 1, 2016
Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service award ceremony in the East Room of the White House, June 1, 2016.
On June 1, ten museums and libraries from across the nation received the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama. The following museums and libraries are examples of the power these institutions can have in their community.
Brooklyn Public Library: Brooklyn’s Anchor Institution
Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama (center) presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to community member Kim Best (left) and Brooklyn Public Library President and CEO Linda E. Johnson (right).
The Brooklyn Public Library of Brooklyn, New York, is the fifth largest library system in the United States serving 2.5 million residents. The institution is known for its robust outreach services for all ages and stages of life, including new Americans, older adults, and veterans. The library also serves as a second home to many, such as community member Kim Best, who has been an avid user of the library since her family moved from South America when she was six years old. Best has passed on her love for the library to her ten-year-old son and she credits the institution with his success in school and his ability to excel.
The Chicago History Museum: A Place Where Sharing Occurs
Caption: Representatives from the Chicago History Museum, President Gary T. Johnson (left) and community member Joyce Chiu (right), accept the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from First Lady Michelle Obama on June 1 during a White House Ceremony.
The Chicago History Museum of Chicago, Illinois, is the city’s oldest cultural institution. The museum serves as a hub of scholarship and learning, inspiration and civic engagement and has dedicated more than a century to celebrating and sharing stories of Chicagoans, like Joyce Chiu, a first-generation American. Chiu spent as long as she can remember in her father’s local bakery in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, watching the community come together and share stories. This culture was brought to life when the museum interviewed her family for the “My Chinatown” exhibit. “It’s meaningful that the ‘My Chinatown’ exhibit is able to preserve the stories of our parents and grandparents for future generations,” said Chiu.
Columbia Museum of Art: South Carolina’s Cultural Hub
Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama (center) presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to Columbia Museum of Art Director Karen Brosius (left) and community member Joyce Rose-Harris (right).
Columbia Museum of Art of Columbia, South Carolina, is revitalizing the city center and redefining the art museum as a bustling social hub of its community. Through partnerships, the museum is helping to build a New South by investing in the community’s children and families. The museum also offers inspiration to many artists, such as poet Joyce Rose-Harris, a long-time member of the museum. “There hasn’t been another place artistically within South Carolina that has had as much of an impact on me and my art,” said Rose-Harris.
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center for Children: Celebrating Childhood Discovery
Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama (center) presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to community member Brandon Spann (left) and Lynn Meadows Discovery Center for Children Executive Director, Cindy DeFrances (right).
When Lynn Meadows Discovery Center for Children of Gulfport, Mississippi, opened its doors in 1998, it was Mississippi’s first children’s museum. The institution has remained dedicated to expanding a child’s world through shared learning experiences, enriching the minds and hearts of children, families, and communities. The center’s WINGS Performing Arts program helps community members like Brandon Spann believe in their dreams, find their voice, and stay on track to finish school.
Madison Public Library: A Vision to Learn, Share, Create
Caption: Community member Rob Franklin (left) and Madison Public Library Director Greg Mickells (right) celebrate after accepting the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama (center).
Madison Public Library of Madison, Wisconsin, has been a steward for education, literacy, and community involvement for more than 140 years, connecting visitors to programs and services, community resources, and each other. The library has a long history of providing hands-on resources, such as a Media Lab where rapper and spoken-word hip-hop artist, Rob Franklin, was able to make his dream a reality – recording his music, creating music videos, and designing posters and album artwork.
Mid-America Science Museum: Pioneering Hands-On Museum Experiences
Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama (center) presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to community member Casey Wylie (left) and Mid-America Science Museum Executive Director Diane LaFollette (right).
Mid-America Science Museum of Hot Springs, Arkansas, is an award-winning, state-of-the-art science museum and home to over 100 interactive science installations. The museum also provides hands-on educational experiences for children who may have minimal exposure to science and other museum activities. “The experience of being a hands-on educator at the museum reawakened my passion for working with children and helping them make discoveries,” said Casey Wiley, a community member, former museum educator, and fifth grade science teacher.
North Carolina State University Libraries: A 21st Century Library
Caption: First Lady Michelle Obama (center) presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to community member Marsha Gordon (left) and Vice Provost and Executive Director of Libraries for the North Carolina State University Libraries Susan Nutter (right).
North Carolina State University Libraries of Raleigh, North Carolina, serves as a gateway to knowledge for the local community and its partners. The libraries' collections reflect the historic strengths of the university as well as its vision for the future. Long-time NCSU professor, Marsha Gordon, brought new life into her teaching approach by partnering with NCSU Libraries and using their cutting-edge technology in the classroom. “NCSU Libraries have really thought about what it means to be a 21st century library. It’s a perfect combination of offerings that help students learn and express intellectual and creative flexibility,” said Gordon.
Otis Library: A Home Away From Home for New Americans
Caption: Community member Baseem Gayed (left) and Otis Library Executive Director Bob Farwell (right) accept the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from First Lady Michelle Obama (center) during the June 1 White House ceremony.
Founded in 1850, Otis Library of Norwich, Connecticut, serves as a community center and a collaborative, engaged partner. The library addresses the needs and interests of its community, providing opportunities for lifelong learning and personal growth, as part of its goal to create a healthy, literate community. Otis Library also serves as a home for new Americans, like Bassem Gayed, who, after many years with the library was appointed the Multicultural Services Coordinator. Because he understood the immigrant experience, Gayed was able to help other immigrants acclimatize to life in the U.S. and flourish the way he had. “At the library, if we teach kids from a young age about other cultures – that there are other people who think, live, and worship this way – it makes a difference, it makes a better world,” said Gayed.
Santa Ana Public Library: The Miracle-Making Library
Caption: Community member Victor Gudiel (left) and Santa Ana Public Library Director Heather Folmar (right) accept the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from First Lady Michelle Obama (center) during the June 1 White House ceremony.
Santa Ana Public Library of Santa Ana, California, has served the community for 125 years. The institution’s programming focuses on improving the community’s collective life for all ages and demographics, supporting the large immigrant population and bridging the digital divide. For individuals like Victor Gudiel, the library is an avenue for discovering their life goals. When his family was homeless, Victor Gudiel’s trip to Santa Ana Public Library introduced him to a special community. Suddenly, he was hooked on the library, going every day after school and taking a part-time job after school. The library was vital in showing him how to apply for college and financial aid. “I didn’t think I was going to go to college. That wasn’t a reality until I started coming to the library,” said Gudiel.
Tomaquag Museum: A Place to Understand Rhode Island’s Indigenous Culture
Caption: Community member Christian Hopkins (left) celebrates with Tomaquag Museum Executive Director Loren Spears (right) after accepting the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from First Lady Michelle Obama.
Tomaquag Museum of Exeter, Rhode Island, is the state’s only Native American museum, empowering Indigenous people and serving as a bridge to promote better understanding of the Native community’s needs, history, culture, and impact on today’s society. The museum encourages the Indigenous people, like Christian Hopkins, to embrace their identity. Growing up, Hopkins worked as a docent, attended classes, tutored youth and became heavily involved in Narragansett performance arts forms, including flute, drums, and dance. “Tomaquag played a huge role in my life. It instilled a strong sense of pride and without it I wouldn’t be on the course I am,” said Hopkins.
Ongoing Endeavor To Be of Service to their Communities
As she closed her speech during the June 1 ceremony, IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew said, “Our nation’s museums and libraries are true community anchors, promoting learning among many ages and backgrounds through breathtaking collections, engaging programmatic experiences and supportive services.” Year after year, IMLS continues to honor these institutions for their mission to serve their communities.
*Photo Credits: Earl Zubkoff