The sound of cheers and plastic hand clappers and the glint of confetti filled Richland Library Main’s second floor Monday after executive director Melanie Huggins announced the library had received the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries.
“We can proudly say that Richland County is home to one of the top libraries in the country … setting new standards to what a library can be in a community,” Huggins said.
The library won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, one of 10 institutions nationwide to receive the award this year and the only one in South Carolina.
Richland Library’s mission has been evolving over the past several years, with the facilities becoming a community resource beyond books. Of the library’s many community programs, the Institute of Museums and Library Services specifically cited the library’s post-flooding outreach, FEMA sign-up initiatives, and ConnectED Library Challenge, an effort to get a library card for every child enrolled in school.
“They’re not fancy, expensive programs, but they’re super impactful. It’s more important to be making a difference in the community,” Huggins said last month, when the library learned it was a finalist for the prestigious award.
“As a library system, Richland Library is working to set new standards for what a public library can do to impact the community. It works daily to break down barriers, ensuring that people have access to the resources and support they need to improve their lives,” IMLS said in a statement. “These aren’t just statistics. They represent the lives that Richland Library touches every day.”
Last fiscal year, Richland Library saw more than 2.3 million visitors at their 11 locations, issued more than 30,000 new library cards, checked out more than 4.5 million items and offered 4,600 programs. That’s 500 more programs than it offered five years ago.
Richland Library also is impacting the community by renovating every library in its system. Three years ago, Richland County voters agreed to spend $59 million to renovate and upgrade 10 library branches.
To make room for more meeting rooms and activity spaces, about 10 percent of the library system’s hundreds of thousands of physical books will disappear through the system-wide renovation process. It’s the result of transitioning more spaces transition to people-oriented from book-oriented, Huggins has said.
At the news conference Monday, Richland County councilwoman and library chairwoman Joyce Dickerson said the award is proof of the good job the library is doing.
“It’s more than just checking out books. It’s community. It’s love.”
Programs and partnerships librarian Sarah Gough said the award was “well-deserved.”
“I’m really proud of everything we do,” she said.
Three South Carolina institutions have received the National Medal for Museum and Library Service: Columbia Museum of Art in 2016, EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia in 2011 and Georgetown County Library in 2007.
Richland Library was a finalist in 2016 but did not win.
“The award is validation that the direction the library is going is visionary. It’s validation that we are being the kind of library that Richland County needs.”
Huggins will travel to Washington, D.C. this summer to accept the award.