November 25, 2017

15 Libraries Named IMLS National Medal Finalists

Update: The 2017 National Medal recipient libraries, announced on May 15, are:

Cedar Rapids Public Library, IA
Long Beach Public Library, CA
Richland Library, Columbia, SC
University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis
Waterville Public Library, ME

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced its 30 finalists for its National Medal for Museum and Library Service on March 20, including 15 public, academic, and special libraries from Maine to Alaska. The depth and breadth of the work of the nominees demonstrate not only the worth of libraries to our social fabric, but also IMLS’s importance for aiding the vital missions of the libraries across the country: a timely reminder, considering that IMLS is one of multiple federal agencies that the current administration’s preliminary budget proposes to dismantle.

The 15 finalist libraries included: Haines Borough Public Library, AK; Long Beach Public Library, CA; Sacramento Public Library, CA; Cedar Rapids Public Library, IA; Illinois Fire Service Institute Library, Champaign; Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, IN; Terrebonne Parish Library System, LA; Waterville Public Library, ME; University of Minnesota Libraries; Rochester Public Library, MN; Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC; Tulsa City-County Library, OK; James V. Brown Library, Williamsport, PA; Richland Library, SC, and George and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Library, Montgomery County Memorial Library System, TX.

“As the nation’s primary source of federal support for museums and libraries, IMLS is uniquely positioned to shine a spotlight on the extraordinary ways museums and libraries bring about transformative community change,” said IMLS director Kathryn K. Matthew. “The highly selective National Medal award, now in its 23rd year, is one of the leading ways we promote the work of exceptional institutions to a broader audience that includes Congress, policymakers, the media, and the public. These awards exemplify the types of strategic partnerships, community service, and public engagement museums and libraries foster in their roles as catalysts for vibrant communities.”

Stepping up in times of need

One common theme among the chosen libraries was their integration of access to traditional library services with practical responses to their communities’ needs, whether ongoing or acute. For example, executive director Melanie Huggins of Richland Library explained how after historic flooding in 2015, the library “worked to open our locations just days after the intense rainfall hit—providing access to resources, power to charge cell phones, and computers to apply for federal assistance or contact loved ones. Staff traveled around Richland County to distribute bottled water and went to both emergency shelters and transitional family shelters to offer laptops, books, storytimes, and puppet shows. Teaming with Congressman James Clyburn’s office, Richland Library was able to set up FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] Disaster Recovery Centers at three of our locations with one of those locations, in a hard-hit area, servicing about 90 customers a day.”

Huggins pointed out how the library has created hubs for community conversations: “When the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina State House grounds in the summer of 2015, Richland Library explored the formation of a social awareness task force. The group has since assembled a series of facilitator-led forums throughout the fall of 2016 for honest dialog and courageous conversations, which ended up attracting hundreds of people.”

Cedar Rapids Public Library (CRPL) helped its community through two major flooding events as well. When one library had to be evacuated in 2016, hours were extended at another branch. Amber Mussman, CRPL community relations manager, told LJ, “Staff unable to work in a physical building were deployed to Red Cross shelters, community centers, and temporary housing to provide storytimes, books, games, information, and companionship to citizens displaced by the flood. In a time of community turmoil and fear, the library stepped in to fill a glaring community need.”

Mussman also outlined CRPL’s rich array of community-driven services. A few include: “The Legacies series, a partnership with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, has community members present a unique personal story related to a designated theme.… In the summer of 2016, the library piloted a new summer learning outreach program with the Cedar Rapids Metro YMCA called Summer Dare Everywhere, which extend the library’s literacy efforts beyond its physical boundaries and engage volunteers in supporting reading initiatives in the community. The MICRO program, a partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids, the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, and other partners, gives patrons the opportunity to develop a business plan and utilize library resources before applying for a MICRO loan of up to $10,000.” The library develops these and many more services in participation with the community through open houses, surveys, and small group conversations to clearly define what is most important to the community.

Small library, large impact

Smaller library systems demonstrated outsized impact in their communities. The Waterville Public Library offers a Job Search Lab, which brings in partners from around the state to help job seekers. “Our local Community Action Program has placed their employment specialist at the library every Tuesday,” director Sarah Sugden told LJ. “This employment specialist serves as a job search navigator at the library and offers individual 45-minute sessions to discuss employment search strategies, barriers to employment, and other relevant topics. The job search navigator, as needed, refers individuals to a wide range of state and local services and supports.… At our most recent Job Fair, a Waterville resident got a job after three years of being unemployed. For many, many months, she had been attending the Job Search Lab on a regular basis and working with the job search navigator. Thanks to the support and guidance she received at the library, she was able to overcome barriers preventing her from being an active participant in the workforce. I’m delighted to share that her story is just one of many, as our library has really become the go-to place in the city for job seekers.”

Terrebonne Parish Library System (TPLS) also aids job seekers in response to community needs. Director Mary Cosper-LeBoeuf said, “With the downturn in the oil field, the library has been working with Work Force Louisiana to provide Work Skills Wednesdays, which provides classes on resumes, digital job searching, job interviews, and networking.”

School partners

Many libraries such as TPLS have partnerships with their local school systems: “Library staff provide continuing education classes to school librarians, Google apps classes, and tools for teachers classes,” said Cosper-LeBoeuf. “One program is Science Rocks, [which] connects students and scientists. A student presents [his or her] hypothesis to a scientist and the scientist helps guide [the] research. Library staff visit 40 day care and Head Start centers monthly, providing training for caregivers on child development needs such as discipline and cognitive development. To assist childcare providers, the library staff have developed a learning center guide book for the centers and have written a book entitled Staycation about why we have to evacuate for hurricanes.”

Sarah Goldstein, marketing and communications specialist at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, explained how the library developed ONE Access, a partnership with the local public school system, that allows “more than 159,000 students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to use their student ID number to access library resources…provid[ing] access in the classroom or at home…include[ing] CMS staff…. The library piloted a student mobile hotspot lending program with Sprint to address the challenges faced by students in homes without Internet connectivity.”

Keeping special collections special

University librarian and McKnight Presidential Professor Wendy Lougee, University of Minnesota (UMN) Libraries, detailed the ways UMN Libraries system focuses on students, including ensuring access to no- or lower-cost course materials. She also emphasized that UMN is also the “state’s only research library; we also reach well beyond campus borders in developing and delivering high-demand services to all Minnesotans through our state-funded Minitex service, including the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) with over 190 institutional partners. MDL is one of the original—and one of the largest—service hubs for DPLA [Digital Public Library of America].”

UMN’s special collections are recognized and used by a global community and include the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies, which recently won the American Library Association (ALA) Newlen-Symons Award for Excellence in Serving the GLBT Community. And, said Lougee, the library “is engaged in a ground-breaking project to capture digital oral histories from the transgender community.” There is also UMN’s Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature that is now “digitiz[ing] resources dealing with African American history and culture from across our extensive archival collections and [has] created a discovery tool—Umbra Search African American History—that brings together relevant digital content from more than 1,000 U.S. partner archives, libraries, and museums, spanning 250 years of history.”

Libraries of all sizes have become the glue that holds communities together, especially when other social services become overwhelmed. As TPLS’s Cosper-LeBoeuf noted, “The library is the biggest resource in this parish that is available to everyone whether you read or not read. A community needs a nucleus and we choose to be that center.”

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Comments

  1. Patricia Nichols says:

    So proud of how central our libraries are to our communities.

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