By Susan H. Hildreth
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. As we celebrate two decades of recognizing outstanding institutions across the nation, I look back in awe at the outpouring of gratitude by community members telling us how museums and libraries have made a difference in their lives. Each year, we receive hundreds of applications nominating institutions that have touched the lives of individuals and families.
With the announcement of this year’s finalists for the National Medal, we invited members of the institutions’ communities to share their experiences with our Share Your Story initiative on our Facebook page. Hundreds of you have shared your experiences with us in the past six weeks, offering reflections and memories, and simply saying “thank you” to the local museums and libraries that left lasting impressions on your lives. Visitors to botanical gardens, science museums, public libraries, and more offered personal accounts of their experiences in these 30 diverse institutions. As this year’s Share Your Story campaign comes to a close, I would like to share some highlights with you.
“This is my hometown library, the place that introduced me to the broader world beyond my home in Norwich. It is what a library needs to be in its community, a place where people of all ages and walks of life gather to be informed and enriched.”
“For 30 years I didn’t talk about my experiences in the Army Security Agency in Vietnam, nor did I even mention I had even served there. In 1998 I was in Chicago on business when I learned about the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, now the National Veterans Art Museum. My visit there changed me. I could feel the thoughts and emotions of other veterans, some like my own. I am an amateur artist. My work was very private and personal. After my visit I went home and painted “Courier to Dragon Mountain.” It was accepted by the NVVAM. I shared with my colleagues that I had a painting in the museum. Many, even those I had worked with for over 15 years were surprised I served in Vietnam. I didn’t have to hide it anymore.”
“The library provided this 76-year old retiree a way to read whatever—whenever she wanted. With my new Kindle, I don’t have to climb steps with a bag to do it. The library has provided me a wonderfully easy way to plug in at home and enjoy almost everything on print that there is—certainly more than I will ever go through, even though I read a book a day. Thank you, library, for being there—for your excellent choice of books, for your Kindle resources, and for making my retirement rich in learning, traveling, and imagination.”
“I can remember going to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences all the way back when I was a little girl. Seeing George the python was so exciting back then. The museum has grown so much, and now it continues to teach me as an adult. I have gone to Belize as an Educator of Excellence. I have seen elk in the mountains and snow geese at Pocosin Lakes on numerous Educator Treks. I have even had the joy of swimming with a beluga whale as a part of the Marine Mammal Institute and thrown a marine mammal and climate change event at my school. I feel so lucky to have had so many opportunities because [of] this fantastic science museum!
I thank you for sharing your stories with us. Here at IMLS we love hearing about the innovative ways museums and libraries foster passion for lifelong learning, offer critical 21st century skills, and touch people throughout their communities. We join you in congratulating these finalists. Please continue to tell us your stories on our Facebook page, and stay tuned for our announcement of the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Services winners!