Two of Columbia’s educational and cultural institutions – the Richland County Public Library and Columbia Museum of Art – are 2016 finalists for a national service medal.
The National Medal for Museum and Library Service award is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for exemplary service to the community, awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington.
The Columbia Museum of Art is one of 15 national finalists for the award among museums, and the Richland County Public Library is one of 15 national finalists for the award among libraries. The honor is bestowed annually to the top institutions for extraordinary and innovative approaches to public service.
California and South Carolina are the only states to have a 2016 finalist named among both museums and libraries, and Columbia is the only city with two finalists. Two South Carolina institutions have received the medal: EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia in 2011 and Georgetown County Library in 2007.
Five national medal winners that exemplify the nation’s great libraries and five that exemplify the great museums will be announced next month. The medals will be awarded May 18 during a ceremony at the White House.
“We may not win,” said Karen Brosius, Columbia Museum of Art executive director. But, “It’s like the Academy Awards in a way. It’s so great to be nominated.”
The 2016 finalists were selected from 125 nominations nationwide.
The National Medal does not celebrate which museums have the greatest sculptures or best paintings, Brosius noted, nor which libraries have the most books. “It’s about how museums and libraries might be able to change lives and the degree to which you are embedded in the community,” she said.
The museum of art opened to the public in 1950 in a small historic house near USC. It moved into a former department store downtown on Main Street in 1998, at a time when Columbia’s downtown was still in dire straits coming out of the residential flight to the suburbs in the 1970s and 1980s.
While the Columbia Museum of Art features, of course, top-flight art collections from the Medieval period to the Renaissance and Baroque, the institution also has put education at the core of its mission and programming, museum officials said in their submission for consideration of the medal.
“Arts education plays a key part in a child’s development and the Columbia Museum of Art is focused on addressing this critical issue,” the museum told the Washington-based Institute. Arts education has not always been accessible as a tool of learning for all students, the museum says.
Noting both Columbia and the state have high minority populations in school, museum officials told the Institute they are dedicated to reaching those who have not had access. The museum also has developed a strong community outreach initiative.
At the Richland County Library, personnel traditionally have visited, toured and basically “looked up to” the innovative services offered by some of the nation’s most iconoclastic libraries, while always seeking new approaches to improve and extend services locally, said Melanie Huggins, executive director of the Richland County Public Library.
Now, the library is being mentioned among the elite. Libraries and museums have to be brought into the 21st century and be relevant to the communities they serve, Huggins said.
“In our application, we highlighted the fact that we’ve got so many kindergarteners that go to school not ready to read and not ready to learn. High school graduation rates are not fantastic. Unemployment (at the time of the application submission) was hovering around 7 percent.
“If those are the information and literacy needs of our community, then how are we creatively responding to those needs?” Huggins asked.
The library highlighted its Here Comes Kindergarten program, an intense, 3-year old program that targets low-income families in areas such as Gonzales Gardens, Allen-Benedict Court and Harbison West in an effort to get children ready for school. The program has shown “fantastic” results, Huggins said.
The application also highlighted the library’s Summer Stride program, a free literacy and literature-based effort for children at risk of losing their reading and learning skills during the summer while away from school. That program also is 3 years old and provides transportation to get at-risk kids to the library during the summer, Huggins said.
Since 2010, the library has had a business and career center available to assist the community with employment needs, Huggins said. It also started sending its librarians back to school to get career counseling certification to better assist patrons with job and business needs, she said.
The Institute is encouraging people who have visited the libraries and museums that are finalists to share their stories and experiences at the facilities on the Institute of Museum and Library Services Facebook page. Go to www.facebook.com/USIMLS, to share your story.
Image: The Richland County Public Library enhanced its storytelling events for youngsters with an experimental robotic storytelling room constructed by Clemson University.