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These 10 Libraries and Museums Won the Nation's Highest Honor. Here Are Their Stories.

June 12, 2019 ET

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Students visit the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery at the South Carolina Aquarium

Congratulations to the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service winners! Now in its 25th year, the Institute of Museum and Library Services' annual award honors libraries and museums that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities

This year's winners went the extra mile. They used inventive approaches to create strong, tight-knit communities and created innovative programs to address their regions' specific needs. Read about the 2019 winners and their programs below.

Winning Libraries

New Haven Free Public Library (New Haven, CT)

New Haven is a coastal city in Connecticut and home to Yale University. The New Haven Free Public Library puts emphasis on education by offering practical resources, such as career readiness courses for teens, internet safety classes for kids and income tax assistance, that can help people learn the practical skills they need to succeed. Their in-house workshops and targeted collections help community members learn financial literacy, workforce readiness skills and start small businesses. In addition, the library hosts plenty of fun events that celebrate the rich cultural diversity of their area and bring their community members closer together.

Gulfport Public Library (Gulfport, FL)

Right on a beautiful beach on Florida's west coast sits Gulfport Public Library. The library prides itself on exceptionally strong community involvement. Library events are often attended not by a handful of library devotees, but by a hundred or more community members. The library serves its community by offering support to many types of people. For example, it has online, crisis and LGBTQ resources for those in need. The library also has created a safe space for the town's young people gather and learn. Library staff noticed many children spent their summers at the library while their parents were at work. The librarians partnered with the local school district and the Juvenile Welfare Board to institute a lunch program.

Meridian Library District (Meridian, ID)

West of Boise, Idaho, Meridian Library serves the fastest growing city in the state. The library works hard to support the community by enriching lives, igniting curiosity, and cultivating connections. The district's branches aren't just quiet places for learning; they are dynamic community centers that provide a place for Meridian residents to come together. Library programming includes a shipping container turned Tiny Library, a bicycle lending program, a bookmobile, and a full-featured maker space. The libraries also regularly hold a wide variety of classes and workshops for all age groups and are the area's go-to source for information on valuable community resources.

Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (Ann Arbor, MI)

Data stewardship is the name of the game for ICPSR, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is a space dedicated to providing rich data resources and responsive educational opportunities for present and future generations. More than 750 academic institutions and research organizations make up this international consortium, where leadership and training in data access, curation, and methods of analysis for the social science research community are practiced and taught.

Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Library (Sequim, WA)

Located in Sequim, Washington, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Library specializes in Native American authors and topics, both historical and contemporary, with a focus on the Pacific Northwest. Many pieces in the library's collection are Native American materials and resources not otherwise widely available. In addition to their valuable literary collection, the library offers a variety of programs and events, some specifically for tribal citizens, but often for the broader community as well.

Museum Winners

Barona Cultural Center & Museum

Located in San Diego County, this cultural center and museum brings its community together by serving two populations. For the Native lipay/Diegueño community, Barona Cultural Center & Museum educates its audiences about the history and traditions of its people and serves as a place where cultural heritage and even valuable heirlooms are preserved. For the general public, classes and events teach people about everything from tribal history to its expertise in ethnobotany, basketry, and pottery. The work done at the center and museum fills a major gap in educational curriculum and counters existing stereotypes about Native culture, bringing harmony to a diverse community.

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

From the tragedy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination rose the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Tennessee. Here, nearly 350,000 annual visitors can go on a journey that takes them through twenty-four permanent exhibits. Exhibits take visitors deep into the experiences of Africans enslaved in America and plantation life, through post-Civil War reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the modern civil rights movement. Along the way, the museum chronicles the movements of resistance and the unsung heroes who sought equality. Each visitor's journey culminates at the location where Dr. King was shot. This museum's contribution is powerful because it causes visitors to reflect on the most pressing global civil and human rights issues, both past and present, and reminds each individual of their capacity to bring about positive change.

Orange County Regional History Center

Opened in 2000, the Orange County Regional History Center occupies the former Orange County Courthouse in the heart of downtown Orlando. The center works to serve as much of the community as they can in as many different ways as they can. Orlando has a highly diverse and changing population, and the History Center makes local history something to can connect the community. Community members and visitors who make their way into downtown Orlando encounter an institution devoted to engaging its diverse community in local culture, past and present. In addition, the more than 15,000 youth who visit the center every year engage with a space carefully adapted to bring history alive.

South Carolina Aquarium

The South Carolina Aquarium sets itself apart, not for having a massive living collection of exotic species from around the world, but for keeping its collection's focus local. Among the thousands of species in the living collection, almost all are native to South Carolina, and that gives the Aquarium a chance to educate the public about the biodiversity of the region and replicate native aquatic ecosystems. The Aquarium has become an integral part of South Carolina's science education curriculum, partnering with teachers around the state to offer field trips and resource kits for the state's students. The Aquarium's educational outreach programs also partner with conservation organizations devoted to tackling tough environmental issues. Education leads to improved conservation efforts and inspires kids and adults to make their environment a better place.

The New Children's Museum

The New Children's Museum in San Diego, California, combines two elements you don't often see together—commissioned contemporary art and a place for children to learn and play. The New Children's Museum seeks to innovate and expand boundaries, all in the interest of sparking the imaginations of its young visitors. Informed by the science of early childhood brain development and education research, the Museum's installations and activities help develop language and motor skills and foster creativity, problem solving, social skills, critical thinking, and resiliency. The Museum empowers kids to “think, play, and create.”

Programs: 
National Medal for Museum and Library Service